Tag Archives: religion

C. D. Broad

Readers who have derived their ideas of Victorian Nonconformity and the middle-class Victorian home mainly from the novels and plays of left-wing writers of some fifty years ago, will be apt to jump to the conclusion that life in my grand-parents’ house was a drab and stuffy existence, punctuated by religious exercises, to which resentful and hypocritical children were driven by fanatical and gloomy parents. They had better dismiss that romantic rubbish from their minds at once.

C. D. Broad, ‘Autobiography’, in Paul A. Schilpp (ed.), The Philosophy of C. D. Broad, New York,1959, p. 10

William James

Perhaps the commonest expression of this assumption that spiritual value is undone if lowly origin be asserted is seen in those comments which unsentimental people so often pass on their more sentimental acquaintances. Alfred believes in immortality so strongly because his temperament is so emotional. Fanny’s extraordinary conscientiousness is merely a matter of over-instigated nerves. William’s melancholy about the universe is due to bad digestion — probably his liver is torpid. Eliza’s delight in her church is a symptom of her hysterical constitution. Peter would be less troubled about his soul if he would take more exercise in the open air, etc. A more fully developed example of the same kind of reasoning is the fashion, quite common nowadays among certain writers, of criticising the religious emotions by showing a connection between them and the sexual life. Conversion is a crisis of puberty and adolescence. The macerations of saints, and the devotion of missionaries, are only instances of the parental instinct of self-sacrifice gone astray. For the hysterical nun, starving for natural life, Christ is but an imaginary substitute for a more earthly object of affection. And the like.

We are surely all familiar in a general way with this method of discrediting states of mind for which we have an antipathy. We all use it to some degree in criticising persons whose states of mind we regard as overstrained. But when other people criticise our own more exalted soul-flights by calling them “nothing but” expressions of our organic disposition, we feel outraged and hurt, for we know that, whatever be our organism’s peculiarities, our mental states have their substantive value as revelations of the living truth; and we wish that all this medical materialism could be made to hold its tongue.

Medical materialism seems indeed a good appellation for the too simple-minded system of thought which we are considering. Medical materialism finishes up Saint Paul by calling his vision on the road to Damascus a discharging lesion of the occipital cortex, he being an epileptic. It snuffs out Saint Teresa as an hysteric, Saint Francis of Assisi as an hereditary degenerate. George Fox’s discontent with the shams of his age, and his pining for spiritual veracity, it treats as a symptom of a disordered colon. Carlyle’s organ-tones of misery it accounts for by a gastro-duodenal catarrh. All such mental over- tensions, it says, are, when you come to the bottom of the matter, mere affairs of diathesis (auto-intoxications most probably), due to the perverted action of various glands which physiology will yet discover.

And medical materialism then thinks that the spiritual authority of all such personages is successfully undermined.

Let us ourselves look at the matter in the largest possible way. Modern psychology, finding definite psycho-physical connections to hold good, assumes as a convenient hypothesis that the dependence of mental states upon bodily conditions must be thorough- going and complete. If we adopt the assumption, then of course what medical materialism insists on must be true in a general way, if not in every detail: Saint Paul certainly had once an epileptoid, if not an epileptic seizure; George Fox was an hereditary degenerate; Carlyle was undoubtedly auto-intoxicated by some organ or other, no matter which, — and the rest. But now, I ask you, how can such an existential account of facts of mental history decide in one way or another upon their spiritual significance? According to the general postulate of psychology just referred to, there is not a single one of our states of mind, high or low, healthy or morbid, that has not some organic process as its condition. Scientific theories are organically conditioned just as much as religious emotions are; and if we only knew the facts intimately enough, we should doubtless see “the liver” determining the dicta of the sturdy atheist as decisively as it does those of the Methodist under conviction anxious about his soul. When it alters in one way the blood that percolates it, we get the methodist, when in another way, we get the atheist form of mind. So of all our raptures and our drynesses, our longings and pantings, our questions and beliefs. They are equally organically founded, be they of religious or of non-religious content.

To plead the organic causation of a religious state of mind, then, in refutation of its claim to possess superior spiritual value, is quite illogical and arbitrary, unless one have already worked out in advance some psycho-physical theory connecting spiritual values in general with determinate sorts of physiological change. Otherwise none of our thoughts and feelings, not even our scientific doctrines, not even our dis-beliefs, could retain any value as revelations of the truth, for every one of them without exception flows from the state of their possessor’s body at the time.

William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature, London, 1902, lecture 1

Dossie Easton & Janet Hardy

Religion, we think, has a great deal to offer to many people—the comfort of faith and the security of community among them. But believing that God doesn’t like sex, as many religions seem to, is like believing that God doesn’t like you. Because of this belief, a tremendous number of people carry great shame for their own perfectly natural sexual desires and activities.

We prefer the beliefs of a woman we met, a devoted churchgoer in a fundamentalist faith. She told us that when she was about five years old, she discovered the joys of masturbation in the back seat of the family car, tucked under a warm blanket on a long trip. It felt so wonderful that she concluded that the existence of her clitoris was proof positive that God loved her.

Dossie Easton & Janet Hardy, The Ethical Slut, 2nd ed., New York, 2009, p. 13

Bertrand Russell

Bolshevism is not merely a political doctrine; it is also a religion, with elaborate dogmas and inspired scriptures. When Lenin wishes to prove some proposition, he does so, if possible, by quoting texts from Marx and Engels. A full-fledged Communist is not merely a man who believes that land and capital should be held in common, and their produce distributed as nearly equally as possible. He is a man who entertains a number of elaborate and dogmatic beliefs—such as philosophic materialism, for example—which may be true, but are not, to a scientific temper, capable of being known to be true with any certainty. This habit, of militant certainty about objectively doubtful matters, is one from which, since the Renaissance, the world has been gradually emerging, into that temper of constructive and fruitful scepticism which constitutes the scientific outlook. I believe the scientific outlook to be immeasurably important to the human race. If a more just economic system were only attainable by closing men’s minds against free inquiry, and plunging them back into the intellectual prison of the middle ages, I should consider the price too high.

Bertrand Russell, The Practice and Theory of Bolshevism, London, 1920, p. 8

Peter Singer

It is significant […] that whereas it is easy to find thinkers from different times and places to whom it is intuitively obvious that we have special obligations to those of our own religion, race, or ethnic affiliation, this does not seems so obvious to contemporary ethicists and political theorists. If the strength of intuitions favoring special obligations based on racial and religious affinity is not sufficient grounds for accepting them, then the strength of our intuitions about, say, special obligations based on fellow-citizenship, should also not be sufficient reason for accepting them. Instead, we need another test of whether they should be accepted.

Peter Singer, ‘Outsiders: Our Obligations to those beyond Our Borders’, in Deen K. Chatterjee (ed.), The Ethics of Assistance: Morality and the Distant Needy, Cambridge, 2004, pp. 13-14

Arthur Jensen

I have only contempt for people who let their politics or religion influence their science. And I rather dread the approval of people who agree with me only for political reasons. People sometimes ask me how I have withstood the opposition and vilification and demonstrations over the years. That hasn’t worried me half as much as the thought that there may be people out there who agree with some of my findings and views for entirely the wrong reasons[.]

Arthur Jensen, in Frank Miele, Intelligence, Race, and Genetics: Conversations with Arthur R. Jensen, Boulder, Colorado, 2002, p. 35

Gary Francione

I find it ironic that vivisectors, and others who exploit animals, call people like me irrational or emotional and then they hold themselves up as rational. They’re not rational. They’re, in fact, defending a world view that is part and parcel of virgin births and holy spirits and all that stuff. Which is fine if they want to believe that. But they hold up the basis of their views as scientific. It’s not scientific at all. It’s based totally on religious views.

Gary Francione, ‘Do Animals Have Rights?’ Interview with Kate Kempton

Richard Dawkins

We’d be aghast to be told of a Leninist child or a neo-conservative child or a Hayekian monetarist child. So isn’t it a kind of child abuse to speak of a Catholic child or a Protestant child?

Richard Dawkins, ‘The Future Looks Bright’, The Guardian, June 21, 2003

Mario Bunge

El sistema mundial nació el 12 de octubre de 1492. Como es sabido, el parto fue doloroso, ya que involucró la subyugación de centenares de pueblos en cuatro continentes. Para millones de personas, su cristianización fue literalmente su crucifixión.

Mario Bunge, Tres mitos de nuestro tiempo: virtualidad, globalización, igualamiento, Santa Fe, 2001, p. 29