What We Must Do

‘We want to stand upon our own feet and look fair and square at the world — its good facts, its bad facts, its beauties, and its ugliness; see the world as it is and be not afraid of it. Conquer the world by intelligence and not merely by being slavishly subdued by the terror that comes from it. The whole conception of God is a conception derived from the ancient Oriental despotisms. It is a conception quite unworthy of free men. When you hear people in church debasing themselves and saying that they are miserable sinners, and all the rest of it, it seems contemptible and not worthy of self-respecting human beings. We ought to stand up and look the world frankly in the face. We ought to make the best we can of the world, and if it is not so good as we wish, after all it will still be better than what these others have made of it in all these ages. A good world needs knowledge, kindliness, and courage; it does not need a regretful hankering after the past or a fettering of the free intelligence by the words uttered long ago by ignorant men. It needs a fearless outlook and a free intelligence. It needs hope for the future, not looking back all the time toward a past that is dead, which we trust will be far surpassed by the future that our intelligence can create.’

– Denonn. L.E., Egner. R.E. Ed. 1961. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin (1962) p. 597

Bertrand Russell delivered the lecture Why I am not a Christian (of which this is an excerpt) on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

Fear, the Foundation of Religion

‘Religion is based, I think, primarily and mainly upon fear. It is partly the terror of the unknown and partly, as I have said, the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Fear is the basis of the whole thing — fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death. Fear is the parent of cruelty, and therefore it is no wonder if cruelty and religion have gone hand in hand. It is because fear is at the basis of those two things. In this world we can now begin a little to understand things, and a little to master them by help of science, which has forced its way step by step against the Christian religion, against the churches, and against the opposition of all the old precepts. Science can help us to get over this craven fear in which mankind has lived for so many generations. Science can teach us, and I think our own hearts can teach us, no longer to look around for imaginary supports, no longer to invent allies in the sky, but rather to look to our own efforts here below to make this world a better place to live in, instead of the sort of place that the churches in all these centuries have made it.’

– Denonn. L.E., Egner. R.E. Ed. 1961. The Basic Writings of Bertrand Russell London, United Kingdom: George Allen & Unwin (1962) p. 596

Bertrand Russell delivered the lecture Why I am not a Christian (of which this is an excerpt) on March 6, 1927 to the National Secular Society, South London Branch, at Battersea Town Hall.

Orwell on Orthodoxy

‘Orthodoxy means not thinking – not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’

– Orwell. G. 1949. Nineteen Eighty-Four London, Great Britain: Penguin Books (2008) p. 56

On The Quran

“The idea that this is the best book ever written – on any subject – can only be maintained in an enormous intellectual isolation.”[1]

– Sam Harris

[1] Consider: the country of Spain translates more of the world’s literature and learning into Spanish every year than the entire Arab world has translated into Arabic since the 9th century.

Conversations: Expertise

When someone says that some opinions are more relevant than others, could that essentially exclusivist thought to be intellectual elitism?

That depends, what do they mean by more relevant exactly?

A more relevant opinion is one which has its base in reality, that is to say, holds more truth than another opinion. Now, I understand some might argue that this observation seems to render any doubt of more relevant opinions irrelevant, but isn’t there a danger of alienating a substantial number of people when expressing this exclusivist idea?

Yes there is, because that is the nature of exclusivist convictions. Now, this sounds bad, but consider the following: What does it mean to have a domain of expertise? – If we admit there are domains of specific knowledge, there are going to be people who express ideas that, say, make more sense than others within that particular domain.

Could you provide an example?

Consider a person who needs a wisdom tooth removed. Is this individual going to consult a dentist or oral surgeon, or should he take the advice of someone who suggested he should remove his own wisdom tooth using a brick and a piece of string?

So anyone with an expensive diploma will automatically make more sense than someone without one?

Absolutely not, remember the maxim we already discussed: a more relevant opinion is one which holds more truth than another opinion. In this example, the patient should not consider the alternative solution because it does not hold any truths. That is to say, in that particular opinion, there are no truths which realise a greater amount of human happiness and well-being in any way – not because it is uneducated.

If I follow your reasoning correctly, it is necessary to exclude some opinions (or at the very least ridicule them) in order to have domains of expertise which can further the cause of man – generate human happiness and well-being.

Quite so. And in this respect it is interesting to consider a question asked by Sam Harris, “Does the Taliban [or any religious fundamentalism for that matter] have a point of view on physics that is worth considering? No. How is their ignorance any less obvious on the subject of human well-being?”

See other: Philosophical Conversations

Intelligence, Liberalism and Atheism

A higher intelligence has a definite correlation with a liberal political ideology and atheism, or so new statistical research informs us. According to psychologist Satoshi Kanazawa, human beings with an above average intelligence are more likely to adapt themselves to evolutionary innovations and act according to superior values.

“General intelligence, the ability to think and reason, endowed our ancestors with advantages in solving evolutionarily novel problems for which they did not have innate solutions,” argues Kanazawa. “As a result, more intelligent people are more likely to recognize and understand such novel entities and situations than less intelligent people, and some of these entities and situations are preferences, values, and lifestyles.”

Religion is a by-product of man’s tendency to constantly try to see patterns in the world around him, and to try to explain – however feebly – everything that world. “Humans are evolutionarily designed to be paranoid, and they believe in [a] god because they are paranoid,” states Kanazawa.

Now, this paranoid behaviour was fine for our ancient ancestors. In fact, it probably helped them to remain vigilant and alert to dangers that could pose a threat to themselves, their family and their tribe. – Hardly behaviour that one likes to associate with modern mankind.

“What is it you most dislike? Stupidity, especially in its nastiest forms of racism and superstition. […] The essence of the independent mind lies not in what it thinks, but in how it thinks.” ― Christopher Hitchens

Kanazawa concludes “so, more intelligent children are more likely to grow up to go against their natural evolutionary tendency to believe in god, and they become atheists.”

Data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (2010) supports Kanazawa’s hypothesis. Young adults who subjectively identify themselves as ‘very liberal’ have an average IQ of 106 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as ‘very conservative’ have an average IQ of 95 during adolescence.

Similarly, young adults who identify themselves as ‘not at all religious’ have an average IQ of 103 during adolescence, while those who identify themselves as ‘very religious’ have an average IQ of 97 during adolescence.

Misconceptions About The Puritans

The traditional image of a New England puritan is that they were dressed in black, with a steeple hat and lots of buckles. None of these is historically accurate; this is a 19th-century idea of how a puritan would have looked, with the buckles representing a stereotype of quaintness. Actually they normally dressed as colourfully and variably as everyone else.

Black suits were for Sunday best, because black dye was expensive and faded fast. If you were having your portrait painted, you wore your best clothes – which is why portraits tend to show them in black. (They are also sometimes depicted as armed with a blunderbuss, but this is another invention: it’s a crowd-control weapon, not a hunting piece.)

“The objection to Puritans is not that they try to make us think as they do, but that they try to make us do as they think.” – H.L. Mencken

Also, Puritans aren’t the same as pilgrims. The Mayflower Pilgrims were a mixture of utopians and fortune hunters, and welcomed dissent. The Puritans, on the other hand, came to America not to find religious freedom so much as to take refuge from it: their party had lost power in England and they wanted to go somewhere that remained free of the taint of religious tolerance. Puritans were not fleeing religious persecution so much as trying to establish an environment in which they could persecute others.

They were active suppressors of religious freedom: for example, a woman named Mary Dyer was hanged in Boston in 1660 for being a Quaker. Those legal measures to promote religious tolerance which did exist were promulgated from England and imposed on the colonies against their wishes.

Je Suis Charlie

Nous Sommes Tous Charlie, that is to say ‘we are all Charlie’ – a headline featured on the front page of the French newspaper Libération on the 8th of January 2015.

On the previous day, a number of heavily armed religious fundamentalists had attacked the Parisian headquarters of Charlie Hebdo, a critical, liberal and outspokenly atheist French magazine, which had recently printed satirical cartoons of the prophet Muhammad; twelve people were killed in the attack.

And with those twelve funerals, liberal society witnessed, unfortunately not for the first time, a breathtaking manifestation of deadly violence – the only way in which fundamentalism is capable of expressing itself.

Without making light of the subject, it could well be argued that the following quotation by Jerry Seinfeld accurately satirises this deeply self-righteous, intellectually deficient, ’empathy free zone’ kind of individual out of which such immoral behaviour could have sprung “People with guns don’t understand! That’s why they get guns, too many misunderstandings.”

Before we go any further, the definition of a fundamentalist should be settled. Fortunately, it turns out to be quite a simple one; a fundamentalist is a person who does not just believe in something – be it simply a tedious political conviction, or a curious thought only relevant to the metaphysical realm – he believes that everyone else should believe exactly the same as himself, and in the knowledge that this eventuality is not likely to occur, this person is willing to act furiously and even violently in order to try to realise this against all the odds.

Fundamentalists, of whatever denomination, do not necessarily hate the freedom of secular Western societies, they hate the fact the inhabitants of liberal societies do not believe what they believe, and do as they do, and think (if that is indeed the correct verb here) what they think.

It was Henry Louis Mencken who so aptly phrased this very thought of sheer intolerance when he wrote “Puritanism: The haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.” – and of course, it is obvious that the term ‘Puritanism’ could easily be swapped with ‘Fundamentalism’ or similar epithets of equal hideousness.

“You can’t kill art if you kill the artist.” – Predrag Srbljanin

On the 8th of January, a day after the attacks, an interesting divide became apparent in the French media; it was the left-wing newspaper Libération that printed the headline Nous Sommes Tous Charlie (We Are All Charlie), whereas the rather more right-wing newspaper Le Figaro printed La Liberté Assassinée (Liberty Has Been Assassinated) on its front page. From the start, inclusivity opposed exclusivity.

This interpretative squabble is more important than one might realise at first glance. It seems that the headline shouting “Freedom died today” is not only apt but it also formulates the proper amount of urgency needed in one of the most desperate hours in the battle for the freedom of expression.

As far as expressing urgency is concerned, that’s all very well and good, but the pessimism-fuelled cries of horror akin to nothing better than a deranged old town crier shouting “The end is nigh” are merely counter-productive.

Now, it may seem counter-intuitive, but the seemingly soppy liberal bleeding heart headline declaring “We are all Charlie” is the far more aggressive political stand.

Consider the following, left-wing politicians across Western society have never made apologies for their thoughts that all organised religion is childishly unnecessary at best, and a vicious cancer on the morality of civilised society at worst.

People who despise one religion but are curiously mild towards another, if not a supporter of another faith are suspiciously absent on the political left. There are no hate-mongering religious apologists that have much love for the colour red.

This is what the headline Nous Sommes Tous Charlie comes down to; indeed, “We are all Charlie”. We are all human beings with an indivisible right to the freedom to express our thoughts and feelings. And if that freedom should lead to lampooning the devoutly held beliefs of people stating they can eat the body of a dead person, or that any odd number of female virgins await those that die heroically, or that taking a knife to the clitoris or foreskin of a prepubescent child is defensible behaviour in a post-desert society, so be it.

“We are all Charlie”, in such an inclusive thought there can be no place for party politics or the petty quarrels of religious obsessives. And in this heated debate, there can be no doubt that the left-wing adeist stance, which promotes reason instead of providing the poor confused and above all angry masses with another Lyotardian grand story, is the most moral course of action. Not ‘us versus them’, but ‘us versus mythology’ – inclusivity instead of exclusivity.

“There really is no society in human history that has ever suffered because its population became too reasonable.” – Sam Harris

The twelve editorial cartoons that were published in the Danish newspaper Jyllands-Posten on 30 September 2005 were on the whole more heavily criticised by religious, journalistic and political organisations than the boycotts, riots and violent demonstrations that were organised in response to the drawings.

Almost ten years later, history will teach us whether the lamented deaths of the twelve French journalists who were violently murdered on the 7th of January 2015 will change the way people treat fledgling fundamentalism, racism, and organised religion in general.

One day after the attacks, all the lights of the Eiffel Tower were dimmed as the City of Light mourned its dead. And at the centre of it all someone wrote Ils ne tuerons pas la liberté, ‘they shall not diminish our freedom’.

Christopher Hitchens said it best with his poetic eloquence when he was asked why he could not keep his atheism to himself, he replied “Because the religious won’t allow me to. Because every time I open up the paper there’s another instance of theocratic encroachment on free society which I won’t put up with – up with which, I will not put!”

Je suis Charlie
Tu es Charlie
Nous sommes tous Charlie
Vive la liberté