Wednesday, 6 February 2013

There's profits in prophets

Why were all prophets invented/created in the Dark Ages?

Or, to put it in historical context, between 1,500 and 5,000 years ago.

The answer, I suspect, may lie in the word "Dark".

How strange that prophets were created by the very few people who were able to read and write back in the dark days. It is estimated that only a small percentage of the populace were literate.

So, say if 90% or so of people were illiterate and possessed the intelligence and wherewithal akin to present-day chimps, what does that make of present-day believers?

Are they just shaven chimps?

Depilated chimp descendants?

Or are they just plain lazy and unimaginative people with no mind of their own?

I believe the latter.

And prophets were conveniently created at a time when human rights were virtually non-existent. When women's importance in society ranked just bellow that of cattle (as in present-day Islam) and children were seen as a burden and vulnerable prey (as in present-day Catholic Institutions and Sharia Law).

Oh yes, it could only have happened back in the days. A time when gullibility reigned supreme. A time when the uneducated revered the few who could speak and write, and the eloquent were instantly deemed as divine.

In all, the Dark Ages were the perfect time to create Gods and Prophets. It simply couldn't happen today.

Can you image a news flash on BBC proclaiming "Important announcement, a Prophet has just emerged in the Middle-East village of Bethlehem, south of  Jerusalem..."

It just wouldn't happen. And for a very good reason. We've come a long way since. At least some of us.

Now, in the Enlightened Era, prophets are used to generate profits...and war...and prejudice...and bigotry...and divisiveness...and suffering to name but a few, but at least no more are being invented.




  1. 1) "90% or so of people were illiterate and possessed the intelligence and wherewithal akin to present-day chimps"

    Intelligence is not always taught or intellectual, it can be emotional or empathetic. Illiteracy does not imply necessarily that someone is not lucid in their thoughts or speech, most of the literature we have now from this time was founded upon oral tradition. Many people in today's society, be that in developing or developed countries, remain illiterate - are they akin to chimps?

    2) It's a cliche argument, sure, but it remains true that atheist, secular communist governments have created as much atrocity as religion; removing religion does not remove human failings, so perhaps religion is not the core problem.

    3) "are they just plain lazy and unimaginative people with no mind of their own"

    Yes, many believers accept blindly the doctrines they are taught and do not question them. But that is not a rule, many people critically study their theologies, their holy texts. They approach their faith rigourously, constantly shifting their beliefs as they encounter new experiences, both of the world and of God, as they read more of their text, and they learn more of the community it was originally written in. There a lot of loud fundamental believers in the world, but there are also many liberal, critical thinkers who seek to genuinely learn. Furthermore, religion continues to change all the time, there is a huge amount of imagination within religion as new theologies form to account for new experiences and philosophies.

    1. Thank you for the comment Rhiannon, and I would like to reply;
      1)I could have written more sympathetically - but the amount of knowledge available today is way beyond the imagination of ancient societies. They were certainly "way behind" us in knowledge - fact. They thought the world was flat...had no idea about the intricacies of the micro and macro world and so on. And chimps have evolved a hell of a lot in 5000 years.
      2)As much atrocity as religion? No way. Without the need to delve into history, just look around you, today.
      3)You say believers critically study theologies and man-made "holy" texts.Why? Why waste time on myth? Do works of fiction "need" dissecting? What would you think of me if I was studying the life and times of, say, Father Christmas? (Just as real) Faith is a simple illness of the logical mind, you either suffer from it or you don't. And religion continues to change, you say. Why? Why does a myth need updating? But thank you for your comment :)

    2. Thank you for replying so quickly, I would like to reply to your reply, if I may:
      1) Yes, we "know more," but that is not the same as saying that the quality of our thinking has improved. We certainly have a stricter methodology in most areas now; even within the arts and humanities, which you don't mention, there is a more rigorous approach to learning. That said, knowledge changes from generation to generation, in five hundred years I doubt the university syllabus for science courses will be too similar, and there is an arrogance, I think, in lauding the current generation's understanding above all others. The scientific worldview, and naturalism, are somewhat in vogue now (arguably less so than in the nineteenth century) but leading philosophies come and go and whilst I believe science as a factual discovery will continue to flourish, I would expect differing priorities of phislosophy to come into play over time, it is simply the nature of things.

      2) Religion has existed for thousands of years, atheism as a prominent phenomena is relatively recent; secular states have fewer examples in history but I think this is a matter of time.

      3) Yes, people study theology. I study theology at Edinburgh University and became a Christian in my third year. Many people lose their faith during the course, and many people find it. Lots of conservative believers become more liberal. My point is that people are eagerly challenging themselves in their study.

      The Bible is not a "work of fiction," you may not believe in the metaphysical truth claims, but it reads as a historical source in many ways. There are a small number of first century accounts of Jesus in the Jewish historian Josephus, for example, which demonstrate the validity of the historical claim to his existence. The miracle stories are, obviously, of another genre, but the general narrative of the Jewish people's journey is relatively accurate.

      Theology as an academic pursuit is very rigorous. Sure, it has its premises, but so does philosophy, that's hardly anything shocking. The most persuasive element of theology, for me as a pretty sceptical agnostic during my first two years of study, was the logical coherence of many Christian theologies. It makes sense, in a way I was quite surprised by.

      Finally, "faith" is a decision to openness, a decision to say "maybe there's more." It is not blind in its intentions but nor is it adherence to dogmatic claims. For my part, an academic appreciation for the theology led me to think it wasn't ridiculous (a big move from my 17 yr old self), the witness of a large group of christians who seemed generally happier than my atheist friends led me (cynically) to think it might be worth trying, and finally I began to pray and I felt a response. The only way I could explain the response I felt to my prayer is the distinction you can sometimes make between a silent phonecall in which the other person has left the room, and a silent phonecall in which the other person is listening. You can tell, but it's subtle, and subjective.

      I don't expect this to persuade you, we clearly have different parameters of understanding our world, but I would recommend that you read more religious literature. The reductionist views of Dawkins and Hitchens won't educate you, they are as innacurate to the complexities of religious belief as the faux-evolution taught by pastors by which they hope to convey the validity of six-day creationism.

    3. Hi Rhiannon,and so our debate rages on! I'd like to respond.

      1) You say "arrogance, I think, in lauding the current generation's understanding above all others" That is not up for dispute. It is a fact. Science and all knowledge are works-in-progress. We know much more than they did, just as future generations will know much more than we do. And if you believe the old timers were privy to devine knowledge and interaction, so be it. If you beieve the myth is a fact, the onus is on you to prove it. Myths are not facts.

      2)The reason atheism is, as you put it, relatively recent is because of fear of retribution. Many great thinkers of the past - Galileo included - feared for their lives and would not admit their lack of belief. The Portuguese explorer Magellan said in 1519 on his trip around the globe that he noticed, when the sun was setting in the west and the moon rising in the east, that he could clearly see the arc of shadow of the earth on the moon's surface. Proof the earth was a globe. He said he believed the shadow much more than any church and those words very nearly caused a mutiny.

      3)You said many people lose and many find faith while studying theology. That is almost an oxymoron. Surely anyone who has no faith has no interest in theology. Faith must have been there initially to create interest in the first place. You mention Dawkins and Hitchens in a derogative manner, but I say why stop there? How about Einstein, Hawkins, Feynman, Freud, Cox, and here's a link to many more

      The list is endless. And yes, R Dawkins is a brilliant scientist and author. I've read his works and am thoroughly impressed. Dawkins speaks of facts, pastors speak of myths.

      As for the bible not being a work of fiction, I beg to differ. There is so little historical fact it can only be described as a work of fiction. I too believe Jesus existed. A good man whose influence remains to this day, as does the influence of many great men in history. A man indeed, not a god. The similarities in all Judaeo-Christian theologies is no surprise since the stories originate from a very small geographical area. Many stories about resurrection and messengers of god pre-date christianity - recycled man-made stories that cause more harm than good. It is a tragedy to witness so much gullibility in the age of enlightenment

    4. Oh Gosh! It never ends. Sorry for not relying immediately, I've been trying to concentrate on essays... I'll just offer some quick responses, if I may.

      1) I would point out that we clearly have different understandings of the word "understanding". I, for my part, don't identify this word with the word "fact." In this sense, I agree with you, we know more facts than previous generations. In my use of "understanding" I refer more to a "way of thinking about things" on a very grand, cultural and societal scale. This is often influenced by big events (such as the holocaust), or by nationalism, or ideology, or prejudices or philosophy. Some of these are negative (or viewed as negative by subsequent generations) and some are positive or neutral. Therefore, when I say we are arrogant to presume our society's understanding is better than any previous understanding, I mean it is arrogant to presume that our "way of thinking about" the world is any better.

      2) It is my opinion that 1500CE is relatively recent. Of course, there were atheists in graceo-roman philosophy who rejected their pagan gods in favour for a more abstract philosophy, but this philosophy still tended to rely on abstract notions of God, even if theism itself wasn't believed.

      My point, also, was not that there are as many atheist moral atrocities as religious ones (this is plainly false), but that when you remove religion, you do not remove moral atrocities. In this way, the culture of "dangerous religion" which can be seen to be promoted in the extreme atheism of some protagonists is shown to be a less than convincing argument.

      3) I believe my comment on the other blog showed some insight into why I chose to study theology. I will not deny that there was clearly an openness to faith in me when I began to study, but this is not an openness I was aware of. I thought Christians were crazy. I studied it merely as an insight into the phenomena of a powerful and influential religion, but I got swept away by the beauty of the theology.

      I mention Dawkins and Hitchens not in their capacity as scientists, but in their capacity as outspoken anti-theists. Dawkins, with the incredibly high amount of media attention he receives, and the incredibly intelligent man that he clearly is, has a responsibility to his own argument to investigate religion more deeply. The God Delusion, which I read about 6 years ago, is a terrible book. Certainly not of the standard I would expect from an Oxford professor. I recognised that as a 16 year old atheist. He is notorious for avoiding confrontation with leaders in the theological field (the recent Dawkins/Williams debate being a long awaited exception). He creates popular arguments aimed and media-attractive extremists. This makes fascinating channel four documentaries, it does not make sound academic argument.

    5. Rhiannon, I will respond only to the Dawkins reference: The God Delusion is a fine book but not his best - I prefer "The Greatest Show on Earth"

      You are an articulate, intelligent and interesting person - the kind of person I would like to meet and speak with. I admire your tenacity and I also feel empathy when I think of your chosen subject, theology, and how you will probably always have to defend the irrational myth of god without having facts as support. Please feel free to contact me via e-mail (address above) where it will be easier for us to continue this interesting debate. Thank you for the comments :)