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The Four dangers of Irrationalism
Submitted by admin on 18 January, 2000 - 07:26
The Four dangers of irrationalism
Levi Fragell, President, IHEUJanuary 18th, 2000
Lecture at the Indian Rationalist Association´s Golden Jubilee Conferencein Trivandrum, India
The usual conception of humanists and rationalists is that we are against religion, we fight religion, we mock religion, we expose it. Is it true? Yes. And no.
To be taken seriously in the debate about lifestance and philosophy we should try to clarify more specifically what we are against in religion - and what we not only accept, but also want to praise and support.
Are we against the old stories, the tales, the lyrics in the socalled holy books? Not necessarily. The Mahabarata and the Bible contain stories and wisdom of valuable – though often archaic - character.
Are we against music and art that are parts of the religious tradition? Not necessarily. If we remove all religious art from the world, we will remove great treasures from the the human civilisation.
Are we against the religious charity, the caring for peoples` health and welfare? Remove it – and see what will happen with our societies!
Are we against the fact that religious people come together in temples, churches and synagoges – to feel fellowship and belonging, to strengthen their identity and self esteem? On the contrary, I think we should learn from them. We have never been able to establish fellowships that create a humanist identity and solidarity between people of our lifestance.So what are we against in the religions?
And with irrationality I do not mean feelings amd emotions. Humanists are just as emotional as others – and absolutely more crazy. With irrationality I do not mean art, music, dance, drama. With irrationality I do not even think of fantastic ideas or desperate actions.
With irrationality I mean claims about facts and reality that are obviously wrong, and do not have support in common sense and common knowledge.
In this respect all the religions in the world through all ages have misled all cultures, cheated and betrayed all new generations and hindered the development of a global society based on truth and honesty.
Four damaging effects of irrationalismI shall shortly point at four damaging effects of irrationalism.
1. Firstly – irrationalism is dysfunctional, which means that it hinders the fulfilment of goals and aims set by society as well as the individual. In other words: It does not work.
Examples: If we strive for social change, the abolishment of poverty – a better life for the masses, it is dysfunctional to spread the ideas of karma and rebirth as well as apocalyptic messages about the end of the world and the immediate second coming of Jesus Christ. Such ideas cause people to adapt to poverty and suffering, instead of confronting the the injustice in society - since the change to the better is expected in heaven or the next life.
If you want to reduce the population growth, it is dysfunctional to go against family planning, sex education and contraceptives.
If you want to get healed from your illnesses, it is dysfunctional to spend your time in the faithealers meetings instead of seeing your doctor.
Irrationalism has been and still is the worlds` main hindrance for social, cultural, poltical and ethical development. May be even technological development.
2. Secondly – irrationalism is harmful, which means that it has effects beyond the dysfunctional hindrance of development. When your drinking water is poisened and you get a priest to read mantras over the well to get it cleaned, you and your children will possibly die from dystentery. If your religion forbids blood transfusion, or the eating of particular food items, if you are advised to fast for weeks or crawl on you knees to reach a higher level of enlightenment, you may ruin your health. If you ask fortune tellers or astrologers to advice you about important decisions in life – for instance in matters of investments and marriage, you may ruin your economy as well as your prospects of a happy family life.
The most harmful effects of religious irrationalism today is the violent conflicts based on holy books and holy traditions. This goes for conflict areas in India as well as in the Middle East, parts of Eastern Europe – and even in subcultural pockets in the secularised West. Thousands and thousands of fellow humans suffer and die because of the harmful effect of religious irrationalism.
I want to mention one effect of religious irrationalism that may seem less important by first glance, but which upsets me very much because of my personal background as a former charismatic Christian – a pentecostal preacher. This effect is the number of Christian conversion that follow the fake miracles that are performed by Christian ministers. It is a great dismay to me to realise that these preachers also gather crowds in the Third world. When innocent people base their devotion and faith on what they think are supernatural manifestations, their integrity has been severely abused. The psycological and social backlashes that may follow, when some of them later in life realise that they have been cheated, are very, very hurting. I know by experience.
I can tell you that I have felt the same dismay and anger when I have visited Sai Baba`s ashrams in the Indian villages Puttaparti and Whitefield. I met a Danish woman in Puttaparti, who had sold all her belongings and settled in the ashram, because she had "seen with her own eyes" that Sai Baba had created a large meeting hall by his devine will power alone. Out of the air.
3. Thirdly – irrationalism is evil.
Is there a difference between being harmful and being evil? Yes. Harmful consequenses are the bad effects of irrationalism, which are not necessarily intentional. When I speak of evil irrationalism, I am thinking of ideas that in themselves are evil, where the intention is to harm, hurt, destroy and kill. Do such ideas exsist within the religions? Yes, they do. And they exsist within political traditions as well. Sometimes religious and political evil ideas merge, as in the Christian crusades and the Christian exploitation of several continents. The evil idea has often been that people of different colours and habits are inferior, and should be killed, raped, suppressed, enslaved. The European holocaust would never have occured without several hundred years of previous persecution of Jews, based upon the Christian scriptures.
Today the irrational evil ideas still flourish in some religious cults, but are not always visible. We should, however, be aware that the roots of these cults may go all the way down to the traditional theologies themselves, to the holy books, where specific chapters and verses about the God`s revenge, the torturing of enemies, the condemnation to hell etc. may contain exactly the poison that may legitimate the most evil actions when hatred and greed need a divine excuse.
4. The last danger of religious irrationalism may seem unimportant: It is ridiculous. The claims of revelations and absolute wisdom are ridiculous, the followers` behaviour and parts of the rites and cults are often ridiculous. The most ridiculous pratice is within the miracle-business, Christian and Hindu. Paul Kurtz and his collegues investigated the faithhealers in the US. They found that one of the preachers who pretended to get messages about people in the audience directly from God, in fact got the messages from his wife in a mini radio-receiver hidden in his ears. Sai Baba in India makes tricks that are explained for kids on cornflakes boxes, but are believed by well educated followers to be supernational manifestations.
In my office in Oslo I have a framed photo of Sai Baba, that I bought in Puttaparti. A text is written on it. It says "Don`t fear. I am here." This picture has given myself and my friends many a good laugh.
Can it harm anyone that irrational religious practice is ridiculous?
I think it is degrading for my fellow human beings that they get captured by ridiculous practices. Their integrity is harmed. We all want to be respectful of other peoples beliefs – their feelings and private choices in life. Instead we develop embarassment and even contempt. The ideals of equality evaporates in mocking laughter.
And one of them we insult by our smiles may be our mother, our brother.Our colleague. Our neighbour.
These are my 4 reasons why I personally have fought against irrationalism for almost 40 years – and why I am grateful that there are rationalists and rationalist organisations who fight for enlightenment – against irrationalism.
But do we fight against religion? No. And Yes.