Atheists should be in the pursuit of knowledge through a rational process. Margaret Singer has used this rational process to examine the world of cults. In her book, Cults In Our Midst, she outlines the research and analysis of what a cult is. She applies the term to groups that are on the edge of socially acceptable organizations. However, a discerning reader will see how the techniques of the fringe groups, that she outlines, are reflected in established religious denominations and social organizations.
An established organization brainwashes through group conformity and undermines the critical thought of individual members. For example, a Baptist or Pentecostal (these two groups often appear as non-denominational) control their members in a similar manner to groups identified as cults, e.g., Scientology or Mormon.
Whether a group is a denomination or a cult, they still use fear to keep people within their groups. Singer identifies six conditions cults need for thought control:
1) Keep the person unaware that there is an agenda to control or change the person
2) Control time and physical environment (contacts, information)
3) Create a sense of powerlessness, fear, and dependency
4) Suppress old behavior and attitudes
5) Instill new behavior and attitudes
6) Put forth a closed system of logic
These are applied to adult converts, and if you were to convert as an adult to a denomination the criteria for success is similar:
1) They do not explicitly state their agenda. They too want to keep the convert in a state of acceptance to their group.
2) The mainline denominations use less control of time and environment, but peer pressure compensates for this factor.
3) The element of fear is disguised as faith. If you do not strengthen your faith, you will suffer the consequence - a separation from God and eternal hell.
4) All groups want your behavior to conform to the standards of that group and to leave your old self behind.
5) All groups create a closed system of logic that works if you do not challenge the core premises' of that group. For example, Christians start from a premise that the Bible is the inspired word of God. If that word says there was a virgin birth, it must be true. God's word does not lie, even in the area of the impossible.
For Singer there are four concerns about what is wrong with cults:
1) They cause damage to the individual and families - so do denominations, e.g. , the Pentecostals or Baptists in their use of faith healing.
2) They use sophisticated psychological and social persuasion techniques - so do denominations, e.g., Catholics and Lutherans use these techniques in their sermons to keep parishioners faithful to the church.
3) They use their wealth to suppress criticism - Catholics and Episcopalians have on occasions used their wealth to suppress bad press by buying off the critics of pedophile priests.
4) They encroach on our freedoms through authoritarian disguised as moral laws and other legal means - so do denominations, e.g., Evangelical and Fundamentalist groups, led by Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, have tried to pass an agenda into law that would control the rights of homosexuals and take away abortions rights.
Singers' research and coverage of cult operations, behaviors, and the way to get out of these groups is extensive. There are organizations and resources listed in the book that will assist a person in shedding the influence of these cults. However, they support a religious agenda from the mainline denominations in most cases. These same techniques that help people get out of cults, may be used to get out of mainline churches or organizations. It is important to develop critical thinking skills that expose the falsity religions and cults.
Although Singer provides extensive research, her style and content could easily be read by the average person. The fact that she recommends specific steps to counter being ensnared into cult groups does not prevent us from seeing the application of the material to denominations. - Grant StevesAdd a comment
While reading Philip Pullman's, His Dark Materials, you need to remind
yourself that this book was marketed toward children. There are some strong
themes, including violent death which are uncharacteristic of children's
novels. However, with references to physics, philosophy and theology, it is
easily enjoyed by adults. While I won't talk about the plot of each book there
were some interesting themes that I thought worth discussing:
Daemons: This is the physical
manifestation of one's soul as an animal. What I found interesting is that when
a person's daemon dies, the person dies or becomes catatonic. Is there
something inside people who make them people? If Terry Schiavo had a physical
daemon the decision to starve her to death would have been easier to make.
Unfortunately, for her, her family, and her insurance company seeing is
believing, at least when it comes to human consciousness.
Dust: This is Dark Matter in our
world. Dust is conscious. The church believes it is the manifestation of
original sin making it the target for ultimate destruction. One character says,
"for all the church's history it's tried to suppress and control every
natural impulse. When it can't control them, it cuts them out. It tries to
obliterate every good feeling." Maybe our universes aren't so parallel
after all. The church makes a big deal of separating children from their
daemons because Dust is less attracted to children. Thus, by cutting the child
away they would never know original sin and live their lives as mindless
servants to the Magesterium. That would NEVER happen in our world. Finally, we
get to the controversy....
If people thought the Golden Compass
was controversial than wail until they make a movie about The Amber Spy Glass. First off, this book
reveals the Christian Heaven to be a lie. The children visit the land of the
dead, only to find out that every one that has ever died lives in a bleak,
bland world... kind of like Indiana
without the racism. Then there is the criticism of organized religion. Mary
Malone, the character I related most to, says of Christianity, "The
Christian religion is a very powerful and convincing lie, that's all."
Mary Malone could possibly be my number one literary hero. Her character left
the Church and described it in a way every atheist can relate to. It was hard
for her because she let down her family. "It felt as if something they all passionately believed in depended
on me carrying on with something I
didn't." Those atheists out there that have a supportive family, I envy
you. For the majority of us, we are made to feel as if we did something
horribly wrong, and the only way to right our crime is to lie about the way we
feel. However she also describes the relief, the huge weight off her shoulders
with my favorite line of the book, "Now I can do something with my whole
nature, and not just half of it."
I recommend His Dark Materials not only to atheists, but to people who simply like a good book. The story is suspenseful and there is love, redemption, and all those other good things that make something worth reading. - JeannetteSorensenAdd a comment
Professor Avalos has constructed a strongly argued case against the need for biblical studies in his book, The End of Biblical Studies. This attack examines the relevance of continuing studies in areas of: translation, biblical history and archeology, historical Jesus studies, literary criticism, and biblical theology. He maintains that professionals in these areas present an illusion that the Bible is relevant for our lives.
It appears, for Avalos, the religious establishment has created and maintained a profession that is a house built on shifting sand. They have taken the truth about their religious construct and hidden it beneath a web of half-truths and illusion. The paradigm of Judeo-Christian religion is at the point where Newtonian physics was in the 1920s. The accumulation of evidence against the reliability and credibility of the Bible is now at a point where we are able to identify its uninspired nature.
However, even with this acknowledged condemnatory evidence, the religious continue to sell the public on the merit of the Bible – not as literature, but as a source of history, science, and guidance in all affairs of life. In the book of 2 Timothy 3:16, the writer speaks of “all scripture being inspired by God.” Avalos would note that means all the errors and opinions in the many translations. Religionists cannot have it both ways when their own “sacred” source argues that it is “all” scripture and not just what we like.
Once Avalos argues successfully the problems of translating the Bible, he exposes other areas of weakness in biblical scholarship. Through the examination of: 1) textual problems (which text is the “Received Text”), 2) contradictions found in secular history and archeology with the biblical record, and 3) the questionable historicity of the figure of Jesus. These areas should be enough to expose the Bible as just ancient literature. However, Avalos also strikes at the theological conspiracy among theologians to keep resuscitating the Bible as the inspired word of God.
In the final chapters, Avalos examines the business of religion and biblical studies. These chapters are an exposé of how a profession, invested in keeping the Bible as a viable source, struggles to find evidence that they are right and there is an inspired word of God.
“Biblical studies as we know it should end.” – This is Avalos’ concluding comment. He wants, “… liberation from the very idea that any sacred text should be an authority for modern human existence.” For the business of Christian theology and religion this sounds extreme. However, from a paradigmatic point of view the Christian god has joined the pantheon of Egyptian, Greek, Roman, and other ancient gods. It is now time for the priests and ministers of this failed system to join the priests of Osiris and Zeus. – Grant StevesAdd a comment