One of my multiple Summer reading choices is a rather cumbersome 801 page book entitled “The Better angels of our nature” written by Steven Pinker and published in 2011. Its subtitled theme is “Why violence has declined” which to many of us when first heard seems unimaginable.
But then his mathematics conclusively prove that as a percentage of total populations at given points in history the numbers of murders or violent deaths per 100,000 people has indeed gone down. For example, from page 81 (figure 3-7) of the paperback edition, a table shows the percentage of English Male aristocrats who died from violence between 1330 and 1829 fell from 26% to single digits by the beginning of the 18th Century (and to almost zero today).
While homicide rates in the USA are much higher today than in Europe, the trend toward less violence in homicide rates from 1900 to 2000 shown on page 92 (Figure 3-10) is conclusive.
The author, earlier in his narrative, tells us about the persecution of witches which we know from the Salem story prevailed in our history. See pages 134 to 139.
So what does this have to do with religion? Pinker, beginning on page 139 makes it very clear. “Human sacrifice and witch burnings are just two examples of the harm that can result from people pursuing ends that involve fragments of their imagination.”
After citing psychos such as Manson and Hinckley, he says, “But the greatest damage comes from religious beliefs that downgrade the lives of flesh-and-blood people, such as the faith that suffering in this world will be rewarded in the next, or that flying a plane into a skyscraper will earn the pilot seventy-two virgins in heaven.”
Then he posits the clincher: “the belief that one may escape from an eternity in hell only by accepting Jesus as a savior makes it a moral imperative to coerce people into accepting that belief and to silence anyone who might sow doubt about it.”
This of course leads to Pinker’s main point today: “A broader danger of verifiable beliefs is the temptation to defend them by violent means. People become wedded to their beliefs because the validity of those beliefs reflects on their competence, commends them as authorities, and rationalizes their mandate to lead. Challenge a person’s beliefs and you challenge his dignity, standing and power. And those whose beliefs are based on nothing but faith, they are chronically fragile.”
If that does not enlighten one about the strong link between unprovable faith and reality nothing can.
He continues: “No one gets upset about the belief that rocks fall down as opposed to up, because all sane people can see it with their own eyes. Not so for the belief that babies are born with original sin or that God exists in three persons or that Ali is the second-most divinely inspired man after Muhammad.”
Thus, in group think situations where status, safety and societal opinion favoring one religion are accepted as dominant, most people find being a heretic unwise.
Can we now come to the status of abortion choice in the USA as a principal factor in whether to nominate a Supreme Court Justice whose views are guided by belief that fetal tissue for most of the term of a woman’s pregnancy is a person?
Fortunately, the trend toward freedom of choice is well begun in the USA but is now dominated by other opinions.
So the question is whether to confirm or not such a candidate? Clearly one can be confirmed should the candidate be able to overcome his or her religious belief and make a legal decision based on secular factors.
Well you decide, but my original point and Pinker’s suggest that beliefs in witches and religious actions which lead to violence or the improper influence of religion on secular decisions are out of the same root.
This then takes us to the main contention of this web site: That the figments of anyone’s religious imagination should never govern the creation of laws governing secular behavior.
From the Dissident Left: A Collection of Essays 2004-2013
By Donald A. Collins
Publisher: Church and State Press (July 30, 2014)
Back in 1991, the NGO Don Collins founded in 1976, International Services Assistance Fund (ISAF), co-produced a TV quality 22-minute film called “Whose Choice?” which Ted Turner arranged to broadcast on September 21, 1992 in prime time on his then independent Turner Broadcast System (TBS). Other outlets such as PBS and several of its affiliates Collins and his colleagues contacted then refused to run it because of its forthright treatment of the abortion issue, arguing for all women’s right to choose not to have a baby. ISAF has made a new edition of that DVD. The purpose for reissuing this 3rd version of “Whose Choice?” was simply to show the historical urgency that attended those times, still blocked and attacked over 40 years after the Roe v Wade decision in 1973. This video is available for public viewing for the first time.
A Conversation with Steven Pinker: Has the World Become More or Less Violent over Time?
Steven Pinker Wants Enlightenment Now!
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