Thursday, March 17, 2016

Nation of Reason: Coming out of the Religious Closet Together

“We are all atheists about most of the gods that humanity has ever believed in. Some of us just go one god further.”
Richard Dawkins. The God Delusion.


“There are almost five thousand Gods actively being worshipped by humanity. But don’t worry. Yours is the real one.”
Anonymous.


Nation of Reason:
Coming out of the Religious Closet Together


Ben Fathi


Summary: Traditional monotheistic religions came into vogue roughly two thousand years ago as a recently self-aware species struggled to understand its place in the universe. These religions used slightly modified pre-existing creation myths, handed down through thousands of years of pre-history, to teach life lessons to an illiterate populace through thinly disguised morality plays. We haven’t moved beyond that simplistic story yet. Islam is going through its "dark ages" fourteen hundred years after its inception just as Christianity did at the same age, some seven hundred years ago, with the crusades. The only difference in the equation is the invention of weapons of mass destruction and the ability of a few to control the destiny of the many. The root cause of many of our clashes today is our inherited belief system in an imaginary creator and a totally irrational expectation of eternal damnation if we displease him. Just look at history for two thousand years of proof points. We no longer need these fictions to teach us morality. As an educated populace, we can live a moral life for its own rewards - not because we want to please our imaginary friends or are afraid of their retribution. Just like we graduated from villagers' tales of creation myths and idol worship to a few monotheistic religions, the time is now ripe for another step function forward in our social and cultural evolution as a species: the creation of a global community based on logic, reason, science, and compassion - the very traits that make us human. Atheists of the world, unite! It is time for us to take charge of our own destiny, time for us to come out of the closet together. The first part of this document rehashes the historical arguments for and against theism while the second part offers an optimistic look forward and proposes specific actions for the formation of a new online Nation of Reason.


“The era of procrastination, of half-measures, of soothing and baffling expedients, of delays is coming to its close. In its place we are entering a period of consequences.”
         Winston Churchill. Nov. 12, 1936.


We stand at the beginning of the twenty-first century of recorded civilization but the past two thousand years are just the tip of the iceberg as far as human history is concerned. As a species, we have been evolving for millions of years. We have uncovered a mountain of scientific evidence about how that process has unfolded over millennia. There are many things we still don’t understand but, thanks to our inquisitiveness, we understand a lot; and, I’m sure we’ll keep peeling this onion until we get to the bottom.


We humans are at our best when we act with compassion in a logical, scientific, rational way. When we see something we don’t understand, we study it; we tear it apart until we uncover how it works – be it at the subatomic level or at the intergalactic level. This so-called “scientific method” relies heavily on skepticism and requires us to seek empirical and measurable evidence for our hypotheses; it’s the strongest weapon in our arsenal when trying to decipher the world around us and a requirement for any healthy democratic society. We are also, at the same time, social creatures – we want to form bonds, to be part of a group, to belong; be it a family, a nation, a sports team, or a church. When it comes to God, however, these two traits are at odds. Our scientific discoveries are often in direct conflict with our religious beliefs.


We have proven, beyond the shadow of a doubt, that the Earth is over four billion years old but religion wants us to believe that God created the world seven thousand years ago. We know man evolved from apes over millions of years yet we are also expected to believe that God created man in a single day (Genesis 1:27). We know that a person cannot live without oxygen for more than a few minutes but we are also told that Jonah lived in the belly of a whale for three days (Matthew 12:40). We know that the moon has a circumference of almost 11,000 kilometers but we are also told Mohammad managed to split it in half with his sword (Quran, 54:1-2). We know that inanimate objects cannot come to life yet Moses supposedly turned his staff into a snake (Exodus 4:3). We know that the planets have been orbiting the sun for billions of years but we are also expected to believe that the sun and the moon stood still at one man’s request (Joshua 10:13). We know that the human body will turn to ash in minutes when subjected to fire yet we also think that we will burn for eternity if we misbehave. For some reason, we lose all “reason” when it comes to God.


“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion.”
Robert M Pirsig. Lila: An Inquiry into Morals.


The truth of the matter is that somewhere along the way, we lost track of the distinction between fact and fiction in scripture. We placed value on the stories instead of the lessons. Many of the stories in our religious books are just that – myths; fables that were used to teach an illiterate populace moral lessons. If we admit that to ourselves, our lives would be so much easier.


“Large numbers of strangers can cooperate successfully by believing in common myths. Any large-scale human cooperation – whether a modern state, a medieval church, an ancient city or an archaic tribe – is rooted in common myths that exist only in people’s collective imagination.”
Yuval Noah Harari. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.


Just because we can imagine something doesn’t necessarily mean it is true. Even today, we come up with all kinds of stories of super-intelligent extraterrestrials for commercial, entertainment, and educational purposes but most people realize that E.T. and Superman are not real. The problem is that the probability of the rise of intelligent life is so infinitesimally small given the odds of natural selection that we need some other logic to explain our existence; and hence were born creation myths. There’s nothing wrong with that – as long as we don’t forget the word “myth” in that definition, as long as we admit that these are stories.


Even within a single religion, we see similar patterns: Sunni vs. Shiite, Catholic vs. Protestant. It’s natural for us to form teams. When we form teams, by definition we exclude others. That, in turn, results in taking sides and attacking others who don’t adhere to exactly the same beliefs and the same creation myths as we do. No one ever bothers to stop and ask whether any of this makes any logical sense or, even, whether it really matters in how we live our daily lives. My imaginary friends are better than yours - and I’m willing and ready to kill you over it.


As children, we believed that a bearded man lives at the North Pole and comes once a year bearing gifts. It was only later that we realized this was just a story meant to deliver a moral lesson: “Be good and you’ll get a reward. Be bad and you’ll get punished.” As humankind enters adolescence, it’s time we realize that all religious texts are basically fables, similar to this one, handed down through the generations. “In the beginning” is no different than “Once upon a time”. They’re both preambles to a story used as a vehicle to deliver life lessons. Santa Claus is not real. And neither is God.


“When I became convinced that the universe is natural, that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell. The dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts and bars and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf, or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world, not even in infinite space. I was free - free to think, to express my thoughts - free to live my own ideal, free to live for myself and those I loved, free to use all my faculties, all my senses, free to spread imagination's wings, free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope, free to judge and determine for myself . . . I was free! I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously faced all worlds.”
Robert G. Ingersoll. 1833-1899. Orator of the United States.


Religious scholars would argue that the laws of mere mortals don’t apply to God and his angels, that the word of Allah is sacrosanct and cannot be questioned. It is exceedingly odd that we question and probe statements in every avenue of life but simultaneously choose to believe the stories of the Bible or the Koran at face value even without a single shred of evidence and despite all their obvious inconsistencies. In a modern democratic society, we rely on citizens to be well-informed and rational in their thought processes, able to make reasoned predictions based on facts and past outcomes. Religion, by contrast, teaches us to ignore the predictive power of the scientific method and instead accept statements on faith, even when there’s no evidence presented or proof possible. This pernicious shift undermines our ability to be critical thinkers.


Ask yourself honestly: Which is more likely? That men created stories to explain the mystery of their own existence or that a force beyond all of our imagination is responsible for creating the entire universe and is watching every movement of every insect on Earth even as we speak?


If Jesus or Mohammad showed up today with some of these same stories, we would promptly lock them up in a lunatic asylum. Note that I’m not talking about their teachings, their moral lessons – just the stories of supernatural beings, miracles, rising from the dead, two of each species on a boat, and other obvious fictions. It would be one thing if these stories were presented as fables but religious doctrine insists that they actually happened even though they defy all logic and fly in the face of scientific reasoning.


This, combined with our strong desire to bond with our team, our family, our kin - the simple social psychology of our species - often results in competing religions forming battle lines against each other, eventually resulting in cruelty and bloodshed, as we have seen again and again and again over the past two thousand years.


“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing? Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing? Then why call him God?”
Epicurus. 341-270 B.C.


Even in cases where one religion started out accepting the legitimacy of others, the end result is often catastrophic when interpreted by extremists. Islam, for instance, has always taught that Jesus and Moses are true messengers of God, that all these religions believe in the same God, and that all “people of the book” are equal in the eyes of God and should be treated peacefully (Quran 22:17).


Yet, even a brief glance at world news today shows how that peaceful message has been corrupted by latter day extremists. The call to jihad against “infidels” (a term originally reserved for the polytheist idol-worshippers of antiquity) has been twisted into a rallying cry against the same people that are supposed to be accepted as legitimate brethren. Even if the original teachings were positive in spirit, they are often hijacked and used to form schisms. It’s just human nature to create “us vs. them” situations.


Homo sapiens evolved to think of people as divided into us and them. ‘Us’ was the group immediately around you, whoever you were, and ‘them’ was everyone else. In fact, no social animal is ever guided by the interests of the entire species to which it belongs. No chimpanzee cares about the interests of the chimpanzee species, no snail will lift a tentacle for the global snail community, no lion alpha male makes a bid for becoming the king of all lions, and at the entrance of no beehive can one find the slogan: ‘Worker bees of the world – unite!’”
     Yuval Noah Harari. Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind.


What's so sad about the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the Moslem-Infidel conflict, the Turkish-Armenian conflict, the Sunni-Shiite conflict, the Indian-Pakistani conflict, the Hindu-Sikh conflict, the Serbian-Bosnian conflict, and so many other human conflicts of the past century is that if these people would just stop and look each other in the face, they'd realize that the participants on both sides can usually not be told apart - genetically speaking.


You know why? Because we really are all the same. We are so closely tied to each other genetically that our stupid little ideological differences seem childish in retrospect. By some estimates, there were less than a thousand human beings on this planet seventy thousand years ago. In other words, we’re all really part of the same extended family. On the other hand, monotheistic religion, as most of us experience it, did not even exist two thousand years ago. Most of the national borders we recognize today, especially in the Middle East, did not exist even a hundred years ago. Our genetic bonds run much deeper than any of these recent artificial distinctions. What does it mean, then, to base our decisions in life on faith and religion and political party affiliation and national flags? When is it time for us to stop bickering as a species and start working together towards a better future - for all of us?


“But because of the stupidity of the average man, he follows not reason, but faith. And this naive faith requires necessary illusion, and emotionally potent oversimplifications, which are provided by the myth-maker to keep the ordinary person on course.”
         Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent.


How can it be that we wrote down exactly what the omnipotent creator told us - word for word according to some religions - and yet, two thousand years later, we find that almost everything he told us is scientifically incorrect and, instead, more akin to tales told by illiterate villagers? The guy who created the universe seems to have been confused about the earth's shape and its place in the universe, the age of said planet, the causes of disease, and the genetic relationship between species, just to name a few obvious examples… Not exactly prescient.
This same "benevolent" lord seems to not have given a damn about the fate of his creations, leaving us to fend for ourselves for thousands of years, killing and maiming and enslaving and generally abusing each other and the animals around us mercilessly, getting killed by the millions from diabolical diseases. Mind you, he was not busy with other stuff. He can hear every word and every thought that every single one of us has every minute of every day. He just can’t be bothered to do anything about it. But, wait. You can’t apply human logic to God. Really? Why not? He’s much smarter than us, so I’m sure he’d understand the logic.


When you bring these discrepancies up with believers, they remind you that we cannot apply human rules to the creator. That it would be futile for us to attempt to understand his reasons.


How convenient!


Why is it that we rely on science for every single thing we do in our lives, be it brushing our teeth or balancing the checkbook or performing heart surgery or flying to the moon. But the moment the topic of God comes up, the moment we ask the most important question of all, the question about our existence, all those scientific principles, the same strict rules that hold our universe together, are thrown out the window and we are asked to believe "on faith" and not question the obvious discrepancies and improbable tales.


“What gets us into trouble is not what we don’t know. It’s what we know for sure that just ain’t so.”
         Mark Twain.


If I tell you that an extremely hairy half man half ape with big feet lives in the woods of the Pacific Northwest, you would, justifiably, laugh at me. You would insist on seeing proof.  Not that it matters to you one way or another whether such a creature exists but because you know what makes sense and what doesn’t make sense based on evidence, based on science, based on logic, based on experience. And you can’t reconcile such a creature with the rest of your scientific and logical knowledge. Why does the most important question of all have to evade the same “reasonable” rigor? Every one of us believes in Santa Claus and the tooth fairy for a few years but even a child opens her eyes and, in the presence of data, revises those beliefs.


Why is it, then, that we refuse to do so about the most important question of all? And why are we so flustered when anyone asks why? Why can’t we engage in logical discourse, in scientific argument on this one topic? Could it be because we can’t defend our position?


As James Randi once said, you can't prove a negative. The burden of proof should not be on us, as atheists, to prove that God doesn't exist but rather on the believers to prove that he does - based on the same laws that govern everything else in our lives, not based on some comical and obviously fictitious logic that makes sense only if you also believe in fairies and a flat earth.


“Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values. Obviously humanism does not deny the possibility of realities as yet undiscovered, but it does insist that the way to determine the existence and value of any and all realities is by means of intelligent inquiry and by the assessment of their relations to human needs.”
Raymond B. Bragg. Humanist Manifesto I. 1933.


You also don’t get to pick and choose your beliefs. Either these are truly the words of God and need to be obeyed to the letter or they are outdated lessons from antiquity that need to be reformed. You can’t have it both ways. You can’t claim that homosexuals should be put to death because the bible said so (Leviticus 20:13) unless you’re also willing to obey the bible when it tells you to stone your children if they are disobedient (Deuteronomy 21:18-21) or that it’s perfectly reasonable to sell your daughters into slavery (Exodus 21:7). That’s just hypocrisy.


Interestingly, the overarching moral lessons of all major religions are often very similar, if not identical; and, just as often, valuable. So, the question remains, why do we even need these stories if we know that they can’t possibly be true? Is it possible to extract the moral teachings and adapt them to the modern world without having to also accept the fables? And, if those teachings are basically all the same, why can’t we distill them into a single list that we can all use to guide our lives in this scientific age and shed the stories that no longer add any value?


Any student of history will tell you that most of the stories in religious books evolved from prehistoric tribal “creation myths”. The stories of heaven and hell, God and the devil, angels and daemons have been present in prehistoric belief systems and were only slightly modified as they were incorporated into the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). There is not a single shred of historical evidence to support most of the events described in the texts, that in an age where we refuse to believe in a theorem without scientific proof and evidence. Somehow, when it comes to religion and God, we suspend disbelief and accept whatever we are told without demanding proof. The problem is that the stories are presented as irrefutable fact and even a hint of skepticism results in backlash.


“Humanity, to survive, requires bold and daring measures. We need to extend the uses of scientific method, not renounce them, to fuse reason with compassion in order to build constructive social and moral values. Confronted by many possible futures, we must decide which to pursue. The ultimate goal should be the fulfillment of the potential for growth in each human personality - not for the favored few, but for all of humankind. Only a shared world and global measures will suffice.”
         Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson. Humanist Manifesto II. 1973.            


It’s now time to abandon these stories in favor of logical, rational, scientific facts. They’ve served their purpose. They may have been useful in an age of ignorance but have no place in today’s scientific world; we simply don’t need them any longer. Two thousand years ago, almost the entire population was illiterate. Most people never travelled more than a few miles from their villages. Even as recently as 1970, almost 40% of the world population was illiterate. Today, by contrast, that number has dwindled to less than 15%. People know the difference between fact and fiction. They understand the scientific process and pursue logical reasoning in every avenue of life. They can travel to the ends of the earth or look up answers to any question instantly. The typical teenager today knows more about the universe than Galileo did a few centuries ago.


Two thousand years ago, even two hundred years ago, we may have needed those myths to learn the moral lessons behind them. We may have needed those threats of eternal damnation in order to behave ourselves. Today, given everything we know, we no longer need them. In fact not only are they not helping us, they are actively hurting us. We don’t have to be scared about the afterlife. We can simply live a positive life because it’s the right thing to do, because it will improve our lives and the lives of those around us. Genetic evolution and kin selection are perfectly good and logical reasons for wanting to help our species. It’s time we throw away the myths of the past and believe in a universe ruled by science and logic. There is no reason why we can’t live an ethical life without organized religion now that we understand the science behind life.


What about "Intelligent design", you may ask as you gaze at the complexity around you? Bah humbug! This is not really an argument as it stands on intellectual quicksand. Its basic premise is that we should believe in supernatural and illogical explanations of phenomena we don’t understand: “It couldn’t possibly have happened by chance, so there must be a creator.” This is not an argument, it’s abdication of responsibility. We don’t understand something, so someone or something smarter than us must be responsible for it. Really?

“Intelligent” design would never have designed bone cancer in children or the Ebola virus or the bubonic plague, just to name a few obvious examples. An “intelligent” creator would simulate atrocities and calamities on a computer instead of unleashing them on real beings; even we lowly humans have figured out how to do that. An intelligent creator would be benevolent, not capricious.


“If religious instruction were not allowed until the child had attained the age of reason, we would be living in a quite different world.”
Christopher Hutchins. God is Not Great.


Let’s perform a thought experiment. Let’s say everyone agrees not to teach their children about religion or God – not a single word. Instead, we educate them about history and science and art and, teach them to behave morally towards other people and animals, and to be good citizens. Of course, we would also teach them about the scientific process, about the laws of physics and chemistry, about genetics and biology and mathematics. Then, when they become adults, they can learn about God. By then, having studied history, they would be aware of all the atrocities and bloodshed caused by religion. Having studied genetics, they would understand evolution. Having studied physics, they would understand gravity. How many of them do you think would become religious?


“If God did not exist, it would be necessary to invent him.”
         Voltaire. 1694-1778.


Did God create man in his own image? I think not. I think this is exactly backwards. Man created God in his own image. God is our creation. As such, we can stop believing in the concept now that it has served its purpose. We needed it throughout history, but not going forward. It’s time for us to behave like we deserve our position as the most advanced species on Earth and take control of our destiny instead of waiting for some divine being to tell us how to behave.


Why is it that atheism is on the rise in western countries and among educated people? As much as 30% of the population in some Western European countries self-identify as atheists with another 50% on the fence. This is because they can no longer reconcile what science and logic tell them and what religion wants them to believe.


"An atheist loves himself and his fellow man instead of a god. An atheist accepts that heaven is something for which we should work now – here on earth – for all men together to enjoy. An atheist accepts that he can get no help through prayer, but that he must find in himself the inner conviction and strength to meet life, to grapple with it, to subdue it and to enjoy it. An atheist accepts that only in a knowledge of himself and a knowledge of his fellow man can he find the understanding that will help lead to a life of fulfillment. He seeks to know himself and his fellow man rather than to know a god. An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church. An atheist believes that a deed must be done instead of a prayer said. An atheist strives for involvement in life and not escape into death. He wants disease conquered, poverty vanquished, war eliminated. He wants man to understand and love man. He wants an ethical way of life. He believes that we cannot rely on a god or channel action into prayer nor hope for an end of troubles in a hereafter. He believes that we are our brother's keepers and are keepers of our own lives; that we are responsible persons and the job is here and the time is now."
Madalyn Murray O’Hair (1919-1995). Murray vs. Curlett Supreme Court case. 1959.


It's only the atheist, the stark realist, who looks at the evidence and says: “There is no God. We are it. We are responsible for this place. Let’s get to it.” Not only is this an amazingly positive message, it’s also an empowering one. This is a much more elevated ethical stance, in my opinion, and can be used as a force for good in the world. And only the atheist can take such a stance.


It took Christianity hundreds of years to come to its senses and stop the persecution and slaughter of innocent people in the name of the almighty. Now roll forward seven hundred years - not so coincidentally also the same number of years as separate the birth of Jesus from that of Mohammad. It should be clear that Islam is now going through its own "dark ages" - exactly as Christianity did. The only problem is that, with the advent of modern weaponry, we no longer have the luxury of a few hundred more years of warfare - be it of the guerrilla variety or the state sponsored type. We live in an age where a few can control the fate of the many.


“Now, it has long been understood, very well, that a society that is based on this principle will destroy itself in time. It can only persist, with whatever suffering and injustice that it entails, as long as it is possible to pretend that the destructive forces that humans create are limited, that the world is an infinite resource, and that the world is an infinite garbage can. At this stage of history either one of two things is possible. Either the general population will take control of its own destiny and will concern itself with community interests, guided by values of solidarity, sympathy and concern for others, or alternatively there will be no destiny for anyone to control.”
         Noam Chomsky. Manufacturing Consent.


You may say you agree that religion is a big part of the problem but you’re not religious. You are agnostic. You believe there is a higher power, a creator, a life force that is beyond us. You will argue that we should not allow the actions of a few fanatics to confuse the true message of God.


You are missing the point. Believing in a fictitious God and allowing him to control any aspect of our lives, even with the best of intentions, just opens the door for fanaticism. Not everyone believed there were witches in Salem in eighteenth century New England. But enough people did. The result was persecution and death of innocent people. Not everyone believed the Spanish Inquisition was necessary yet it persisted for hundreds of years and resulted in the imprisonment, torture, and execution of thousands of people.


Religious extremists will continue to feel cornered as science moves us forward at an ever increasing pace. The fact that we then find ourselves needing to step in and take military action against the radicals shows that we are headed in the wrong direction. They have a "cause" - a reason to believe they are "right". They will blow themselves up and wake up with seventy two virgins and a river flowing with wine. Heaven and hell are exactly the same in Islam as they are in orthodox Christianity. Draw your own conclusions about the depth of their fervor and their willingness to die for the cause. You may draw on the historical precedence of Christianity.


“The men who committed the atrocities of September 11 were certainly not 'cowards,' as they were repeatedly described in the Western media, nor were they lunatics in any ordinary sense. They were men of faith—perfect faith, as it turns out—and this, it must finally be acknowledged, is a terrible thing to be.”
         Sam Harris.


The problem is not that Christianity is right and Islam is wrong – or vice versa. The problem is that we have allowed our imaginary friends to control our lives. Such a state of affairs is guaranteed to end in disaster - as we’ve seen time and again. We don't have hundreds - or even dozens - of years to waste. We can't wait for human nature to take its course and for people to wake up and stop hating each other for no good reason. We must act now.

So let’s see if we can come up with a set of rules that govern our lives without the superstitions of religion and yet allow us to lead a positive life. Let us be the logical, scientific, moral, ethical beings that we are ready to be.


What I propose here is a virtual “Nation of Reason” - one in which logic, reason, science, and compassion ultimately guide our actions and form the tenets of our society. Now, then, we hold these truths to be self-evident:


First, that all humans are born equal, that they have certain unalienable rights - that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.


This is nothing more than a rephrasing of the statement from the declaration of independence. Not all men but all humans. Not created but born. This is a profound statement at heart and removing references to the creator doesn’t diminish its value but rather amplifies it by acknowledging the scientific, social, and legal advances of the past two centuries. We are all equal at birth and have the same potential for success. What we do during our lifetimes is how we should be measured, not some arbitrary set of traits we cannot control.


Second, that we should do unto others as we’d want them to do unto us.


This “Golden rule” is common to all major religions but, more importantly, it is morally and ethically unassailable. It succinctly subsumes many other teachings (thou shalt not kill, thou shalt not steal, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, honor thy mother and thy father, etc.) and, as such, is a simple yet powerful and ethical code of conduct.


“That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow. This is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary. Go and learn it.”
         Rabbi Hillel. 110 BC – 10 AD.


Third, that all things are connected.


Most people immediately pursue a metaphysical explanation for the above sentence, but I mean it in a strictly scientific sense. We know for a fact that all beings on Earth share much of their genetic makeup. We know that we share 97% of our genes with our closest primate relatives but did you know that we also share a quarter of our genes with a rice plant?! We are biologically connected to all other living things on this planet.


But why stop with living things? Sir Isaac Newton didn’t just prove that the Earth has a gravitational force that causes apples to fall from trees. Newton’s law of Universal Gravity states categorically that any two bodies in the universe (yes, even rocks) attract each other with a force that is directly proportional to their masses and inversely proportional to their distance from each other. Go back and read that sentence again. Any two objects in the universe attract each other. There is, in fact, a force that connects all things in the universe and we have shown how it works - scientifically.


Corollary 1: If we are all connected to each other and we (humans) are the most advanced species on Earth, it follows that we have a responsibility to protect those that can’t protect themselves. This applies not just to humans, but also to animals, plants, and the environment.


Corollary 2: If we are to protect life on earth, it follows that violence in all its forms must be abhorrent to us; and weapons of all forms, as instruments of violence, are equally unwelcome.


Fourth, that there is no God, supreme being, or supernatural force behind the scenes controlling the universe. We, along with all other living creatures, have evolved over billions of years to our current state of being without a “man behind the curtain” pulling the levers.


Show me one piece of scientific information to dispute this statement and I’ll be the first to stand in line asking God’s forgiveness. Until then, please stop your bickering. We have work to do to save ourselves and the planet.


Corollary 1: We are responsible for our own future.


There is no afterlife, no heaven, no hell. This, in turn, puts the burden squarely on our shoulders. We are the guardians of the universe.


“Nevertheless, an iron rule exists in genetic social evolution. It is that selfish individuals beat altruistic individuals, while groups of altruists beat groups of selfish individuals.”
         Edward O. Wilson. The Social Conquest of Earth.


Corollary 2: A non-existent entity cannot and should not interfere with societal affairs, including affairs of government.


Fifth, that no rule is cast in stone. We can, and must, constantly question what we take for granted and what we believe to be true. Even the very rules written here are subject to review as we learn more about the world around us. By corollary, it is insane to live our lives by rules that were written down two thousand years ago or even two hundred years ago. So much has changed since then. We know so much more.


Counterargument: Just for one hypothetical minute, let's say God really does exist. He's just been busy dealing with a revolt over at Alpha Centauri for the past millennium or two. Let's say he shows up tomorrow and wants to know what we've been up to - as a species.


Which band would you rather be in? The one that says "Well, we spent our time praying five times a day facing in that direction and killed all these guys over here because they liked your third novel better than your second one."


Or the one that says: "Here's what we learned from the books you left us and here's how we improved upon them as we became smarter - while you were busy with our cousins over there."


Call to Action: There are only two paths forward, one in which we cling dogmatically to religious texts written thousands of years ago by semi-literate nomadic Bedouin and try to shoehorn them into our post-industrial globally connected life today; and a second, in which we learn from those books but rely on more modern texts to govern our daily lives and social contracts. In case it’s not obvious yet, I’m a proponent of the latter path.


Reform for religion must come from within - not just within the religion itself but also from within the individual. Any doctrine unwilling or unable to revise its own tenets when presented with rational contradictory data is doomed to fail in the long run. Similarly, any individual unwilling to review his or her own unsubstantiated beliefs is doomed to a life of servitude.


"A faith which cannot survive collision with the truth is not worth many regrets."
Arthur C. Clarke.


Our only path forward is to engage those who are willing to change, those who ask questions instead of blindly accepting everything they’re told. Let the Muslims and the Christians and all the other “believers” fight each other over their imaginary friends. Let us band together as atheists and write the manifesto for the future of our planet instead of getting dragged into their fights. Ultimately, that is what this document is about.


The founding fathers of this country were businessmen, politicians, lawyers, doctors, engineers, philosophers, and scientists. So were those who brought us the French revolution and the Enlightenment. They wrote documents that have largely withstood the test of time for hundreds of years and have simultaneously modernized the Western world, ushering in an era of unprecedented prosperity and liberty. Yet, even these recent texts were written for pre-industrial and pre-digital eras and have had to be amended repeatedly as we discover new truths and learn more about the world we live in.


There is no reason why we are still arguing ad nauseam today about gun control or stem cell research or abortion rights or climate change. None that is, other than hanging on to outdated rules that make no sense in our modern society. Most such issues, you will find, are influenced by religion in one way or another.


It is now time for a new generation of founding founders to come forth and write a new constitution - one free from the dogmas of religion and informed by the past two hundred years of scientific learning and logical thinking.


At the end of the day, this is a petition, a call to action. I am asking the smartest men and women on the planet to sit down together and write a declaration of independence (from religion) and the constitution for the next two hundred years. It’s an invitation to write the constitution for the Nation of Reason. If such a “nation” becomes the first digital nation, an online entity bringing together like-minded individuals from around the world, so much the better.


What I envision is a new virtual nation where atheism is one of the core tenets and all citizens are logical and reasonable human beings. Those of us who agree will then become dual citizens - in our current physical country as well as in our new virtual Nation of Reason. Human history has seen nations formed around every form of religion: Christianity, Islam, Judaism, even Buddhism. Why not one based on Atheism? [Countries such as The Soviet Union, China, North Korea, and Cuba don't count as they are not democracies and their citizens are not "free".]


Richard Dawkins, Ray Kurzweil, Bill Gates, Aung San Suu Kyi, Elon Musk, Stephen Hawking,  Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg, Barack Obama, Steven Pinker, Neil deGrasse Tyson… are just a few of the names that come to mind. Add your favorite titan of industry, philanthropist, scientist, or otherwise reasonable person to the list of nominees and we all get to vote on membership for the ones willing to participate.


The rules are simple:
  1. You can nominate anyone by tweeting their handle: “#nationofreason I hereby nominate .@RichardDawkins to the council. See rules here: http://benbobsworld.blogspot.com/2016/03/nation-of-reason-coming-out-of.html” These tweets are only valuable as a means of enticing someone to declare themselves as a candidate but are otherwise ignored. Beware, though - that by doing so, you are coming out of the closet like the rest of us. Membership in our society is a requirement for voting rights.
  2. Anyone can declare his or her own candidacy by tweeting the text: “#nationofreason I @RichardDawkins hereby declare my candidacy for the council.” By doing so, they are coming out of the closet, religiously speaking, and are agreeing with the four basic principles listed above including the fourth one, that God does not exist, and that - by extension - religion is irrelevant in this new world.
  3. Voting is done by counting the “likes” on the original tweet by the candidate. Re-tweeting can be used to broadcast your support for a candidate but does not count in the tally. You can vote for as many candidates as you wish - but only once per candidate.
  4. The top ten candidates will be brought together and asked to prepare the text.
  5. In honor of the American declaration of independence, nomination and voting will end on 4th of July. The rest shall be history. Or so we hope.


Further Reading: These are the authors who have said basically the same thing I’m saying above, only much more eloquently.


On Human Nature by Edward O. Wilson
The Social Conquest of Earth by Edward O. Wilson
The Meaning of Human Existence by Edward O. Wilson
The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker
The God Delusion by Richard Dawkins
The Selfish Gene by Richard Dawkins
The Better Angels of Our Nature: Why Violence Has Declined by Steven Pinker
The Blank Slate: The Modern Denial of Human Nature by Steven Pinker
The Stuff of Thought: Language as a Window into Human Nature by Steven Pinker
How the Mind Works by Steven Pinker
The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker
The Demon Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark by Carl Sagan
The Moral Landscape: How Science Can Determine Human Values by Sam Harris
The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason by Sam Harris
God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything by Christopher Hitchens
The Portable Atheist: Essential Readings for the Non-Believer by Christopher Hitchens
The Discoverers by Daniel J. Boorstin

2 comments:

  1. It is truly good that no warranties are implied as one would be necessary if we were to take this "Looooonnnggg," post seriously. According to records, religious warfare accounts for about 2-4 million deaths in the world since any records were kept. Hitler, Stalin and Mao managed better than that in each week. Let's do enter the corridors of Lucretius and find ourselves to be the arbiters of human worth as Pol Pot did. Delightful.

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    1. Can I ask where you got the "2-4 million" number? Offering references for your numbers would be appreciated.

      To counter your claim, Wikipedia (just to name one source) claims that 1.7 million people were killed in the crusades, 5.9 million killed in the Thirty Year's war, 1.5 million in the Armenian genocide. That's just three wars.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_wars_and_anthropogenic_disasters_by_death_toll

      Hitler, Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot were evil and noone is defending them. But it is a non sequitur to argue that their actions were *motivated* by atheism. I doubt a little atheist angel or daemon was sitting on their shoulder telling them what to do. In the case of religiously motivated warfare, however, the perpetrators were indeed taking orders from their imaginary friends.

      Also, why are we limiting ourselves to "deaths"? Does that mean torture, imprisonment, sexual abuse, and other atrocities in the name of religion are acceptable?

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