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Converting people to a religion


Mr Rayon
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Does everyone think that it's wrong to try to convert people to a particular religion? For example, by going door-to-door and telling others of your religion, handing pamphlets and telling them how to convert etc. Generally in Western society, do people try to convert other people into their religions? Does this happen often in our current day and age?

 

Also, is it more ethical to try to convert an atheist/agnostic into your religion than someone who has already adopted their own religion? What does everbody think?

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In my opinion it's no more wrong than trying to convince someone to change their taste in music. It can be annoying as hell, but there's no real intrinsic badness to it. Some religions even say that it is wrong to force your religion upon others, although we all know how easily zealots forget the teachings that go against their actions. At the same time there are atheists out there that try to force their beliefs upon others just as strongly as the theists do.

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Does everyone think that it's wrong to try to convert people to a particular religion? For example, by going door-to-door and telling others of your religion, handing pamphlets and telling them how to convert etc. Generally in Western society, do people try to convert other people into their religions? Does this happen often in our current day and age?

 

Also, is it more ethical to try to convert an atheist/agnostic into your religion than someone who has already adopted their own religion? What does everbody think?

It is going to depend on what you mean by "try to convert". In the past, there have been forced conversions - conversions at sword point. forced or coerced conversion is not conversion and is therefore wrong.However, if one places the truth (as they see it) before another and thereby convinces them of that truth then this is not wrong, it is their duty.

It is required that we "make disciples of all nations" (Mt 28:19) This does not mean that every person in every nation be Christian but rather that we are to declare Christ in every nation and accept converts from all nation.

 

It is often said that We proclaim the Gospel, but it is the Holy Spirit who converts people.

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I agree with Ringer. As a general statement, I don't think there is anything inherently wrong with trying to persuade someone to share a belief that you hold. At least, it isn't ethically wrong.

 

There are some interesting grey areas, though. For example, in what one raises one's children to believe, since coming from a parent the line between "persuasion" and "force" is often blurry. If it was my religion that children must never leave the basement and cover themselves with their own feces, and that is what I taught my own, I'm pretty sure the courts would rule that child abuse even if I never physically forced them. Or, suppose that my religion was that it was necessary for you to kill people, and I tried to convince you of such. That's basically what Charles Manson was convicted of, as "conspiracy to commit murder". I myself would still not be directly harming anyone, right?

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What the philosopher John Rawls says in relation to 'public reason' sheds some interesting light on this question. He recommends that legitimate public discussion to generate social policy can only be conducted in terms of public reason, which consists of common sense reasoning, ordinary logic, and theories based on objective facts which we can all have access to. As long as we persuade people by public reasoning, we respect their rationality, free will, and equality with us, since we don't ask them to endorse anything which their own processes of reasoning and evidence available to them would induce them to accept.

 

But as soon as we try to convince them of the invisible truths of religious revelation, we necessarily cease to respect their equal rationality, logic, and access to the common pool of objective facts, since we ask them to believe things which are illogical or lack objective evidence, since they are superstitions. If a conversation within the rules of public reason is like a voluntary participation in a dance, a conversation to make someone else believe a religion is like a rape, because it insists on a conversion which has no grounds of rationality or evidence to motivate it, so it must arise from a humbling and submission of the intellect, which implies an act of violence.

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I always found it "annoying as hell" (to quote Ringer) when people prosthelytized (I can never spell this word) and tried to convert me to their religion. Then when I was studying cultural relativism, I learned that tolerance rarely overlaps with total acceptance, so there's a passive politics to failing to spread your culture to others. This can be hard to see, and people debate it, but I'll try to explain. When you have some culture or religion and you fail to attempt to include others in it, you are basically creating a situation of relative exclusion where people who do not assent to your culture/religion will be denied the privileges of social-inclusion. The privilege could be as basic as open communication. So while it is not your belief that you should convert others to your religion/culture, what you are doing in practice is saying, "until you come to share my culture, I'm not going to be friends with you as much as someone who does." So instead of pushing your beliefs actively, you're doing so passively by withholding (for lack of a better word) love from people who don't convert. So the nice thing about Christianity and other cultures/religions that value reaching out to people is that they are not re-actively exclusive but pro-actively inclusive. The problem comes when people don't want to be included or they get exploited by becoming included. But you can't ignore the bigger social problem of exclusion, imo, which is caused by people erecting cultural/religious boundaries and being averse to including others.

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In my opinion, a religion is just a set of rules that you don't question... possibly with a set of leaders who make up these rules, and/or possibly with a book which states these rules. It gives people a sense of security, and a purpose... but it can also be greatly abused by those in power.

 

There are many religions in the world. And I believe that "religion" is a term that has been used to describe a belief in a higher power, which then automatically means the "supernatural". But I think that's wrong. Religion is just a term for a power that you cannot influence... but that dominates your life for a large part.

 

I think that a lot of people who call themselves agnostic or atheist are deeply religious themselves. There are many "beliefs" in this world that fit the definition of religion that I use (which as I said before, may differ from other people's definition).

 

Take the economy. After defeating communism (which was evil, like the devil - no explanation needed) we accepted capitalism as the ultimate good. To question it is nearly blasphemy. A large majority never questions the rules. And we don't question the leaders either (we don't dare). I expanded on this in a blog post (link), so I don't feel the need to repeat it again.

 

And since I take the definition of religion so broad, I think it's nearly impossible to say that there is something wrong with people who try to convince others of their religion.

Our entire political system, our economy, and all the supernatural powers that dominate groups of people are all "religions". And they all fight to gain more influence. And we all try to influence them too, and to get more people to believe... or to stop believing. It is therefore essential that we can convert others. As annoying as it may be if people try to convert you, it is quite likely that you do the same at some point to others.

 

I tried to show you all how thin the line between religion and other important issues in life is. If you make it illegal to convert people, you cross a line. You essentially ban an opinion. And when that line has been crossed, it is very easy to ban other opinions... This is why a law for freedom of speech does not distinguish between religious and non-religious issues.

Edited by CaptainPanic
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Religious truths seem by definition to be irrational or at least arational truths, so there is no way that anyone can really be converted to them by being logically convinced of them. This is why 95% of the world's believers just happen to have had the astonishing good fortune to have been born into the world's only true religion!?

 

So if religious belief does not rely on logical inference to convince people, and is not provable either by empirical exhibition of some presently public object accessible to everyone or by reasoning, then what does it mean when someone sets out to convert someone else to a religion? It seems almost as though it has to be an act of intellectual violence, since there is no logic or empirical evidence -- the only two devices which society normally recognizes for guiding someone else's intellect to agree with yours while yet still respecting his autonomy as a rational human equal to yourself.

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  • 3 weeks later...

ethically i don't see it as a problem, However my personal feelings toward evangelist can sometimes be quite patronizing at times, And be very overwhelming. The whole accept jesus, or whoever as a prophecy or burn thing get's just a tad bit out there. Obouisly not all are like that but none the less. And if you let them say one word you cant's escape, it never ends. But on the other hand if their are people out there that have not heard of "whoever" and some suggestive selling to boost up the congregation, sure why not. Now children being raised in a agnostic/athiest home based on fact's intellect and non religous beliefs, i would imagine grow up with the same thought process in a sense. But growing up with a predominantly religous family may not end up with the same result, But rejecting it rather than embracing it. And like myself have a extended awkward feeling when in religious setting's. So main point is it depends on the person being presuaded into religious belief. Some get quite antsy, some don't care either way, And some embrace the fact that there is fellowship,membership a sense of belonging to somthing. And other's just can't make up their minds. dry.gif

 

 

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In my opinion, a religion is just a set of rules that you don't question... possibly with a set of leaders who make up these rules, and/or possibly with a book which states these rules. It gives people a sense of security, and a purpose... but it can also be greatly abused by those in power.

 

There are many religions in the world. And I believe that "religion" is a term that has been used to describe a belief in a higher power, which then automatically means the "supernatural". But I think that's wrong. Religion is just a term for a power that you cannot influence... but that dominates your life for a large part.

I think what you refer to as "religion" is actually better termed "dogmatic authoritarianism." There are non- or anti- dogmatic/authoritarian approaches to religion and as with other approaches to culture that resist dogmatism and authoritarianism, they tend to get marginalized and attacked by dogmatic authoritarians as being too "wishy-washy." Ironically, Christianity began as anti-dogmatic/authoritarian Judaism. There's nothing about any idea that PREVENTS it from being packaged and transmitted as dogma and used as authoritarian hegemony. In fact, the most successful authoritarians are those who know how to convert radicalism into dogma in order to seduce critical-thinkers into authoritarian social-relations. I think this may be why so much dogmatic authoritarianism is perpetuated using the ideologies of Christianity and democracy/freedom, i.e. because these ideologies promote resistance to authoritarianism in their content.

Edited by lemur
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I see red. When I was a teen, I give respect to people by hearing them when I was approached by anyone. Nowadays, I don't even look at them. They say they just want to discuss religion and chat, but their motive is to convert others. They are not interested in two way communication. This also goes to the financial plan promoters if they appear at subway stations, Don't make eye contact with them.

They target teens and almost anyone actually. but for teens, peer pressure and being subtly intimidated by more senior students, wanna get some hazing? or maybe the teens want to get into the good books of these seniors.

 

Regarding publications, some people are just distributing pamphlets about their religion, while some have used comics that depict other religions in a bad light. example, Chick Publications comics which info can be found on wikipedia . A few religious people has been distributing the comics door to door targeting people outside the faith. This may make some people angry. I look at a few examples by google, and it seems not much actually, but maybe there are more impressive ones which I haven't seen. <br>

Edited by skyhook
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People who appear on my doorstep wanting to convert me to their belief system always presuppose that the holy book they carry around with them constitutes some independent source of proof that what they are trying to get me to believe is true. They seem to have a surprising degree of difficulty in understanding that since I don't start out believing in the magical sacredness of their book, reading to me from their book can't prove anything to me or help their arguments. I need a way into their book in the first place, but they don't seem to be able to provide that, or even comprehend that that is what is required.

 

It is certainly true that they don't want a serious, two-way discussion, since if you try to have a philosophical debate with them they really get upset, and if you dare to advance to the point of trying to persuade them of your own atheism, they start spluttering with rage. From this reaction you can see that they view the conversion conversation more as a type of assault or verbal and intellectual rape than a two-way communication in which both parties are equal in their dialogue to achieve insight.

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Agree with that Marat - and also I wonder how many proselytisers would be happy with me turning up on their doorstep to explain the joys of rationalism, why I think the only sexual prohibition should be lack of true informed consent, how good their proscribed comestibles are to consume, and most importantly the way the hidden manipulations of a dominant ideology is used to reinforce patriarchy, repress the unorthodox, and constrain free-thought.

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  • 3 weeks later...

I actually engaged with some Jehovah's Witnesses who turned up on my door, on the condition that they could not use anything from the bible as evidence. They did okay for about half an hour before the quotes started. I apologised, and told them it was time to go.

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People who appear on my doorstep wanting to convert me to their belief system always presuppose that the holy book they carry around with them constitutes some independent source of proof that what they are trying to get me to believe is true. They seem to have a surprising degree of difficulty in understanding that since I don't start out believing in the magical sacredness of their book, reading to me from their book can't prove anything to me or help their arguments. I need a way into their book in the first place, but they don't seem to be able to provide that, or even comprehend that that is what is required.

 

It is certainly true that they don't want a serious, two-way discussion, since if you try to have a philosophical debate with them they really get upset, and if you dare to advance to the point of trying to persuade them of your own atheism, they start spluttering with rage. From this reaction you can see that they view the conversion conversation more as a type of assault or verbal and intellectual rape than a two-way communication in which both parties are equal in their dialogue to achieve insight.

 

I have not always had this experience with people who have approached me in the streets or at my home. In fact I once had a young man approach me at a bus stop who, after the initial, 'hello', etc., asked me if I believed in God and if I'd ever heard much about his religion (he was Mormon, from memory). When I answered no, rather than be offended he commented on the chemistry homework I had been doing while I waited for my bus. We ended up having a good 10 - 15 minute discussion about organic chemistry and science in general, with no reference to religion or God at all.

 

That particular group of missionaries were ethically upstanding in the sense that they by no means intended to enforce opinions and beliefs onto people who clearly had no interest. Their job was to discuss religion with people who had a common interest or people who simply were wanting to learn more. When it becomes 'wrong' is when a group of people or a person tries to push their system of beliefs onto people who do not want it. Religious discussion and debate does not necessarily fall into this category, since both parties are willing participants.

 

As a comparative analogy, I once came across a man who insisted on handing out leaflets to everyone he came across at a bus stop (it's where they always manage to find me). This in itself is fine. I didn't see the point in potentially engaging in an argument over a piece of paper that I was not obligated to read and so I took it. A few seconds later, after I had sat down, the same man asked to come and sit with me. I sighed internally, knowing where the situation was headed but politely agreed. Sure enough, the 'do you believe in God?' question came up. The difference came when I said no and said gentleman started off on a rant about how Darwin was wrong about evolution because (apparently) there are no fossil records to prove his theory. Again, that is not immoral, just somewhat annoying. I then told him that I did not wish to engage in a debate about religion and asked if he could kindly leave, to which he replied by pausing, laughing and then continuing in his attempt to tell me that God is real and that science is wrong. That is where the situation became, in my opinion, unethical - when he continued to force his point after I clearly stated I had no interest in hearing it.

 

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Whenever people come to my door asking if they can share their beliefs, I always say "Yes, as long as I can share mine with you". It usually ends up being a polite yet wonderfully tense conversation once they realize I'm not budging. They get a bit uneasy though when I break out the RNA world hypothesis or start a mitochondrial DNA rant. I grill the hell out of them usually, but I try to keep a smile and a helpful attitude. If they invite me to church, I invite them to a chemistry or physics seminar at my school. I tell them that is my place of worship (and it is :) ).

 

Almost every event where ideas are exchanged in a polite and constructive manner is good though; what harm can come from a friendly debate? I think none.

 

Turn in your bible to the book of statistical thermodynamics:

 

-Thou shalt conserve thy energy

 

-Thou shalt conserve thy mass. Yea except for thine holy mass defect in whence case thine energy shalt still be conserved...

Edited by mississippichem
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It's interesting that so much of the debate about religion now seems to turn on the proxy debate about whether Darwin was right or not. That is a highly tangental point, since religion already obviously makes no sense even if we leave natural science out of the discussion.

 

The other odd thing about those who would convert people to their relgious beliefs is that the supposedly divine texts they rely upon are strikingly unimpressive -- if critically examined the way anyone would evaluate a random text purporting to contain some great truths. They are not even persuasive; they do not contain even tentatively good arguments; and they are not even internally consistent -- and yet still, their advocates seem consumed by a passionate conviction that they are the greatest texts ever produced.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Firstly I would caution against generalities. Not picking on you Marat, but your comment makes a good example.

 

The other odd thing about those who would convert people to their relgious beliefs is that the supposedly divine texts they rely upon are strikingly unimpressive

 

Have people read the Hindu, Bhuddist and other literature, or do they just generalise from a dislike of the Christian Bible? I certainly grant that if someone comes knocking on the door, they are probably a Christian sect, but if the other literature hasn't been read, how can one know that it is unimpressive?

 

Secondly, only those who have done door to door work know how really hard it is. Whether you're selling religion, a new phone plan or home improvements, it's a hard slog and those who do it are worthy of respect for the sheer amount of effort involved. Queensland in summer is bloody hot and I make sure to always offer refreshments to doorknockers. There is nothing wrong with a little kindness.

 

Thirdly, the JWs have earned respect for their conviction if not their religious views. They went to the gas chambers with many others for refusing to join the army. They takes the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" very seriously and are willing to be persecuted and killed rather than go with the flow to save their own skins.

 

Lastly, the Atheists will earn the right to complain when we see "Atheists International" getting in there with a helping hand after a natural disaster like the Salvation Army do. Or helping the down and out, or any number of other things. It strikes me as the height of cognitive dissonance to complain about "religion" and at the same time ignore the very real good and needed work that religious organisations like the Salvos do. Work that no "atheist" organisation does. Has there ever been an atheist soup kitchen? Where are the atheist counterparts to Mother Theresa?

 

The Cold War raged through the 20th Century but when a disaster struck who were always there to give a helping hand? The "religious" Americans or the "atheist" Soviets?

 

All forms of thought probably have both up and down sides. What is wrong with accepting the minor inconvenience of the occasional knock on the door as a small price to pay for all the good that many of these organisations do?

 

I should add that my own beliefs place me in the generic category of "Witch", so I have neither current nor historical reasons to particularly well disposed towards christians, but I'll line up beside the Salvos any day, for any fight.

Edited by JohnB
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Firstly I would caution against generalities. Not picking on you Marat, but your comment makes a good example.

Have people read the Hindu, Bhuddist and other literature, or do they just generalise from a dislike of the Christian Bible? I certainly grant that if someone comes knocking on the door, they are probably a Christian sect, but if the other literature hasn't been read, how can one know that it is unimpressive?

 

Yes - in course of my studies I have read other holy books; mediocre to bad philosophy, mediocre to good poetry, mediocre to staggering ideology/dogma

 

Secondly, only those who have done door to door work know how really hard it is. Whether you're selling religion, a new phone plan or home improvements, it's a hard slog and those who do it are worthy of respect for the sheer amount of effort involved. Queensland in summer is bloody hot and I make sure to always offer refreshments to doorknockers. There is nothing wrong with a little kindness.

 

 

 

Thirdly, the JWs have earned respect for their conviction if not their religious views. They went to the gas chambers with many others for refusing to join the army. They takes the commandment "Thou shalt not kill" very seriously and are willing to be persecuted and killed rather than go with the flow to save their own skins.

 

and earned slightly less respect for the strength of their convictions in stopping their children have vital blood transfusions and other procedures

 

Lastly, the Atheists will earn the right to complain when we see "Atheists International" getting in there with a helping hand after a natural disaster like the Salvation Army do. Or helping the down and out, or any number of other things. It strikes me as the height of cognitive dissonance to complain about "religion" and at the same time ignore the very real good and needed work that religious organisations like the Salvos do. Work that no "atheist" organisation does. Has there ever been an atheist soup kitchen? Where are the atheist counterparts to Mother Theresa?

 

Without knocking the the work on the streets of the SA (who do an amazing job) - You mean like Oxfam, Medecins San Frontier, ActionAid - or individuals like Andrew Carnegie

 

 

 

The Cold War raged through the 20th Century but when a disaster struck who were always there to give a helping hand? The "religious" Americans or the "atheist" Soviets?

 

All forms of thought probably have both up and down sides. What is wrong with accepting the minor inconvenience of the occasional knock on the door as a small price to pay for all the good that many of these organisations do?

 

 

 

I should add that my own beliefs place me in the generic category of "Witch", so I have neither current nor historical reasons to particularly well disposed towards christians, but I'll line up beside the Salvos any day, for any fight.

Do you include their rejection of homosexuality, strong anti-abortion stance, and proscriptive marriage rules in that?

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imatfaal. Good, my point was that the vast majority of people arguing have never read the Bible, let alone the works of other religions, thereby making an informed comment impossible. You can't do a book review without reading the book. As to the content of those works we might have to agree to disagree. It depends what you are looking for I guess.

 

and earned slightly less respect for the strength of their convictions in stopping their children have vital blood transfusions and other procedures

 

Certainly true. No philosophy is perfect.

 

You mean like Oxfam, Medecins San Frontier, ActionAid - or individuals like Andrew Carnegie

 

A quick check shows that both Oxfam and ActionAid were started by Cecil Jackson-Cole who is quoted here as being "a devout Christian", hardly "atheist" organisations. MSF would classify as neither an atheist nor religious organisation, they simply don't care. I have no idea as to the religious convictions of the founding members, do you?

 

Andrew Carnegie was certainly an atheist and did much good work. He was also a member of the South Forks Fishing and Hunting Club which was pretty much responsible for the Johnstown flood of 1889 which killed 2,209 people.

 

So in answer to the question "Where are the ateist organisations?" you provided 4 examples, 2 were started by a devout Christian, 1 doesn't care (and there appears to be little about the religious views of the founders anyway) and an individual whose negligence as part of a group killed over 2,000 people. Would you like to try again? Can you find a group that was formed by a bunch of atheists?

 

Do you include their rejection of homosexuality, strong anti-abortion stance, and proscriptive marriage rules in that?

 

I'm not too sure what you mean here. The SA? Being willing to stand beside them in a fight doesn't mean that I won't argue against certain practices and beliefs that they hold. I'll defend my family too, even if I argue with the members in private.

 

Why does it have to be an "all or nothing" affair? As I said, most philosophies have good and bad points. I'm trying to get across the point that people should accept this as a starting point. Laud the good and argue the bad instead of the constant practice of ignoring the good and decrying the bad.

 

Honestly it's sometimes like that scene in "Life of Brian",

 

Cheers.

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I was refering to Prof Gilbert and Lady Murray founding Oxfam - both committed and campaigning humanists/rationalists, of the many phases of an organisation we are comparing different parts. CJC was an amazing man - motivated through his faith, he used his enthusiasm, cash and business acumen to start many organisations and put a great number of British charities on a level footing. Actionaid is now avowedly non-religious - but I take your point that this is not the same as atheist. But why would an atheist feel the need to start a charity when there are such great charities already that do not espouse any creed. Atheism (despite what this particular forum might suggest) is not proselytising.

 

Hadn't read about South Forks Club - although seems a bit of a stretch to lay it at Carnegie's door (based on a very short reading) - and frankly quite a lot of ignominy can be laid at M Theresa's door as well.

 

 

to clarify my final point, you said "but I'll line up beside the Salvos any day, for any fight". The SA have some views on personal morality that I find pretty abhorrent; my question is would you line up besides the Salvos to fight against homosexuality?

 

 

You object to "all or nothing affair" - and that is understandable and correct; I object to the argument that because some people of religion do great good, therefore religion cannot be bad

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Good, my point was that the vast majority of people arguing have never read the Bible, let alone the works of other religions, thereby making an informed comment impossible. You can't do a book review without reading the book. As to the content of those works we might have to agree to disagree. It depends what you are looking for I guess.

 

On that note, if you want to know something about Christianity, you'd be better off asking the average atheist than the average Christian. It turns out that the average atheist knows more about Christianity than does the average Christian.

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I've read the Old and New Testaments, the Koran, and the Egyptian Book of the Dead, if that counts, but on the basis of that admittedly limited survey I would say that all those texts were shockingly disappointing and exhibited the character of superstitious dogmas which no one would even begin to take seriously if they were not Bronze-Age tribesmen or modern people encountering them after they had been puffed up by the aura of historical importance. In the Koran, for example, the book of the cow doesn't even mention cows; the book of women doesn't even mention women. You would think it could at least make some sense in terms of its own arbitrarily created conventions, but even that is asking too much.

 

But insofar as these are religious texts they all suffer from the same defect which they are required to have by virtue of what defines a religious text. That is, they seek to answer the basic problems of human existence by simply dogmatically positing the existence of some imaginary thing, as though an existence posit could really answer the complex questions, crying out for detailed phenomenological, sociological, and psychological investigation and resolution, of human life and the meaning of existence! The whole notion that positing some imaginary thing which is big enough and powerful enough will somehow substitute for a rational explanation is so silly, and so essential to the definition of everything which qualifies as a religious text, that there is no need to go through all of them before dimissing them all as ridiculous. They are all like the period of degernation of physics in the 18th century when heat was 'explained' by the presence or absence of heat-fluid, chemical reactions by the presence or absence of phlogiston, transmission of action through a vacuum by the presence of the aether, and thunder was purportedly explained by the appearance even of 'sound-matter' out of the clouds!

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