Using a dataset derived from the long-running “Cults” podcast by Parcast, I find that the number of new cults began to increase in the 50s, peaked in the 70s/80s, and has been in steady decline in recent decades. I discuss various factors (historical, technological, cultural, psychedelic drugs) that may have played a role in the rise and fall of cults since the 1950s and speculate on the future of cults.
America is a country so suffused with faith that religious attributes abound even among the secular. Consider the rise of “atheist churches,” which cater to Americans who have lost faith in supernatural deities but still crave community, enjoy singing with others, and want to think deeply about morality. It’s religion, minus all the God stuff. This is a phenomenon spreading across the country, from the Seattle Atheist Church to the North Texas Church of Freethought. The Oasis Network, which brings together non-believers to sing and learn every Sunday morning, has affiliates in nine U.S. cities.
In April 2018, almost 1,000 people streamed into a church in San Francisco for an unprecedented event billed as “Beyoncé Mass.” Most were people of color and members of the LGBTQ community. Many were secular. They used Queen Bey’s songs, which are replete with religious symbolism, as the basis for a communal celebration—one that had all the trappings of a religious service. That seemed completely fitting to some, including one reverend who said, “Beyoncé is a better theologian than many of the pastors and priests in our church today.”
New research published in the Academy of Management Journal indicates that religion perpetuates the gender wage gap. The findings provide evidence that men tend to earn significantly more than women in societies with heightened religiosity.
If a proposition is going to be taken to be unquestionably true, it is important that no one understand it. — Roy Rappaport, Ritual, Sanctity, and Cybernetics The context of that assertion is a discussion about how religious beliefs function to keep a community of diverse populations together. The fundamental belief that binds must at…
The notion of needing“to be associated with the victims rather than the perpetrators” is what sent me down the rabbit hole of identity hoaxers. You would be surprised at how many there are: the “pretendians,” who claim Native American ancestry, including theformer Klansmanwho reinvented himself as a best-selling “Cherokee” author; the Syrian blogger “Gay Girl in Damascus,” who turned out to be a straight American man named Tom MacMaster; Scott Peake, who presented himself as a fluent Gaelic speaker from a remote Scottish island when hetook over the Saltire Society, which promotes Scottish culture. (He was really from South London, and couldn’t speak Gaelic.)
Do you know who built the Coliseum in Rome? The Roman emperor Vespasian. That’s not all he was known for:
At Alexandria a commoner, whose eyes were well known to have wasted away …fell at Vespasian’s feet demanding with sobs a cure for his blindness, and imploring that the Emperor would deign to moisten his eyes and eyeballs with the spittle from his mouth.
… Vespasian …. did as the men desired him. Immediately … daylight shone once more in the blind man’s eyes. Those who were present still attest both miracles today, when there is nothing to gain by lying. – Tacitus, The Histories, 4.81 (c 110 CE)
How do Christians explain that? Was Vespasian stealing the powers of Jesus by healing people’s blindness with spit?
I can explain both. It’s real simple: They made it up.
The context of both Tacitus’ Histories and works like the gospels about Jesus is that both are pretty much the social equivalent of movies playing in a theater. It’s not like any Joe from the street can make a movie, get it marketed effectively, and then get it distributed across thousands of movie theaters across the globe.
The same was true for paper (well, papyrus) and quills in the time of Jesus. It’s not like you could just go to the Wal-Mart on the corner in Judea and get some paper and pencil and write a story. It took quite a bit of resources to acquire writing material 2,000 years ago. The majority of the population couldn’t even read or write. No, the people writing these stories are probably the equivalent of 1%-ers or Hollywood directors who are trying to make their stories sell. They weren’t CNN reporters.
Most Christians hearing these stories almost 2,000 years ago heard them in house churches, just like most people today see the latest movies in theaters.
Do you see something that happens in a movie and are like “No way, that didn’t happen” and actively go out and try to find people to confirm/deny what you saw? No. You enjoy the story.
That’s why Tacitus can write about Vespasian healing blind people with his spit, why the writers of the gospels of Mark and John can do the same. There certainly were no shows like Mythbusters in ancient Judea.
Apply this to every so-called miracle you read about in antiquity and it accounts for it all pretty elegantly.
Now, I picked Vespasian for a reason. This is the writing of a Jewish historian who lived during Vespasian’s time:
But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how,” about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea. However, it is not possible for men to avoid fate, although they see it beforehand. But these men interpreted some of these signals according to their own pleasure, and some of them they utterly despised, until their madness was demonstrated, both by the taking of their city and their own destruction.
“being smart can actually make bias worse…the smarter you are, the better you are at constructing a narrative that supports your beliefs, rationalizing and framing the data to fit your argument or point of view”
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“The point which I should first wish to understand is whether the pious or holy is beloved by the gods because it is holy, or holy because it is beloved of the gods” – Socrates
Back in my 20s I would get into debates with religious people on the internet a lot. Indeed, I started this blog in the tail end of my 20s because of a religious debate with a particular ex girlfriend. One of the debates that came up regularly in my 20s was god being the source of human morality. God is responsible for our feeling of something being moral or immoral. This assertion leads one to the Euthyphro dilemma quoted above. Either god declares something good because it’s good per se, or something is good only because god says so:
For those that aren’t familiar with it, the question is: does God will something because it is good, or is something good because God wills it? If the theist says that God wills something because it is good then the good is independent of God and, in fact then, moral values are not based in God. They are independent of him.
On the other hand, if you say something is good because God wills it then that would seem to make what is good and evil arbitrary. God could have willed that hatred is good; then we would be morally obligated to hate one another, which seems crazy.
Some moral values seem to be necessary, and therefore there would be no possible world in which hatred is good. So the claim is that this shows that morality cannot be based in God.
I think it is clearly a false dilemma because the alternatives are not of the form “A or not-A” which would be an inescapable dilemma. The alternatives are like “A or B.” In that case you can always add a third one, C, and escape the horns of the dilemma. I think in this case there is a third alternative which is to say that God wills something because he is good.
That is to say, God himself is the paradigm of goodness, and his will reflects his character. God is by nature loving, kind, fair, impartial, generous, and so forth. Therefore, he could not have willed that, for example, hatred be good. That would be to contradict his very own nature. So God’s commands to us are not arbitrary, but neither are they based upon something independent of God. Rather, God himself is the paradigm of goodness.
This post, however, is not a reinterogation of this argument. This post is about its secular equivalent.
Now that I’m in my 40s, I see that a lot of young people (get off my lawn!) today, especially activists, approaching a modern Euthyphro dilemma. But instead of god being on the horns of the dilemma, it’s science.
What if science concludes that slavery is ultimately beneficial?
What if science concludes that women working at home on balance produces the most good in society?
What if science concludes that children having sex with adults is good for their maturation?
But look at what that thought is defending. That’s exactly the same apologetic rationale that the likes of WLC would posit. You are in effect saying “science itself is the paradigm of goodness”.
What’s preventing a scientific conclusion like that from happening? If you’re not trying to not get impaled on the horns of Euthyphro’s dilemma, what concern is it that science might lead to a repugnant conclusion?
There’s no logical reason that science would not point towards something that we find morality reprehensible. In fact, it has to. Imagine how astronomically improbable it is that your morals and your science line up. If they do line up perfectly, then you’re probably doing science wrong. Or, you’re religious.
Indeed, it’s a fact that not everyone’s morals line up. Yet somehow, the findings of science line up with everyone’s morals; any science that doesn’t line up with a person’s morals is fake science, pseudoscience, not scientific enough, etc. There’s quite obviously a disconnect. Do you really think that the science you accept just so happens to match your moral and ethical convictions without any subconscious rationalization? What a coincidence!
Here’s a challenge: Try to overcome your biases. Stop contextualizing and find some scientific results that contradict your moral positions. Your moral repudiation of this science is evidence that the science is more likely to be correct than not.
Ok. So you’ve found some science that is morally unconscionable. Should this science be kept hidden? Why not? We all know suppressing morally compromised science is only done by the good guys throughout history. Because [your] morality is the one constant through all recorded history. So you’re in good company!