If you think the New
Atheists are mean, then think again. It seems like Steve Pavlina just
woke up on the wrong side of the bed when he posted his anti-religion
rants personality development tips for smart people. See 10 Reasons You Should Never Have a Religion.
“While consciously pursuing your spiritual development is commendable, joining an established religion such as Christianity, Islam, or Hinduism is one of the worst ways to go about it.” [read more]
Frequent readers of my blog know by now my attitude towards organized religions. See my posts on the New Atheists.
However, although I sympathize and agree in general with Pavlina’s
musings, I have issues with his some of his intellectual
reasonings. I’ll address them point by point below.
rather change the name of the list to reflect my own perspective. So
instead of “10 Reasons You Should Never Have a Religion,” I’d rather
call it, “10 Reasons We Ought to Grow Beyond Our Religion.”
1) “Religion is the off-switch of the human mind.”
It’s more accurate to say that religion is a conveyor of the human mind
into ever-increasing awe and wonder of existence. The trick is to
understand when to switch it on or off.
“Leave the mythology behind, and learn to think for yourself. Your intellect is a better instrument of spiritual growth than any religious teachings.”
we really leave mythology behind or is it forever engraved in our
psyche ready to get activated depending on the situation, our moods, physiological makeup, and/or
I think that, even if we think that we’ve left religious mythology
behind, they still linger in our individual and collective unconscious
shaping our individual and collective world views. And what about
emotions? Religion is a feeling for a lot of people, not an
intellectual pursuit. People don’t usually use their “heads” when it
comes to religious affiliation.
2) “One of the worst mistakes you can make in life is to attach your identity to any particular religion or philosophy, such as by saying “I am a Christian” or “I am a Buddhist.”…”Religious “truths” are inherently rooted in a fixed perspective, but real truth is perspective-independent. When you substitute religious teachings for truth, you mistake shadows for light sources.”
somewhat agree. However, attaching our identity to any particular religion,
philosophy, or organization is not a mistake. It’s just natural.
Humankind is a social animal. As we develop our personality we identify
with things, people, organizations, and nations. The “mistake” is to exclusively identify and get stuck with them. From a developmental perspective personal growth is seeking ever-increasing identity (or autonomy, or sense of freedom). Khalil Gibran best described this process of growth in The Prophet: On Freedom.
“And when the shadow fades and is no more, the light that lingers becomes a shadow to another light. And thus your freedom when it loses its fetters becomes itself the fetter of a greater freedom.”
3) “Religions are very effective at turning human beings into sheep. They’re among the most powerful instruments of social conditioning.”
is also for community building and kinship. It’s a cohesive glue in most (if not
all) societies. That said, there are harmful and less harmful
religions. But we need not throw the baby with the bath water. There’s
always room for nitpicking the useful parts and rejecting the harmful
“When you subscribe to a religion, you enroll in a mindless minion training program.”
true. But more often than not, subscribing to a religion is unconscious
rather than an individual choice. Most people are born into their
respective religions. That’s why Dawkins explicitly stated that labeling a child as a “Christian child” or a “Muslim child” is a form of child abuse.
“So-called divine mysteries are engineered to be incomprehensible. You aren’t meant to ever make sense of them since that would defeat the whole purpose. When you finally wake up and realize it’s all B.S., you’ve taken the first step towards freedom from this oppressive system.”
I wonder what is Pavlina’s take on Zen koans? Zen koans are also not meant to be comprehended.
4) “If you devote serious time to the practice of religion, it’s safe to say you practice toilet-bowl time management, flushing much of your precious life down the drain with little or nothing to show for it.”
I think Pavlina is over-stretching here a bit.The Dalai Lama
practices his religion. Father Thomas Keating practices his religion. Are they flushing their lives down the drain?
“First, you’ll waste a lot of time filling your head with useless nonsense. This includes reading some of the worst fiction ever written. Then there are various rules, laws, and practices to learn.”
is part of our learning process. We first learn the rules then,
hopefully, we grow above and beyond them. Without rules and taboos to
break, how do we practice discernment?
5) “When you donate money to a religious organization, you’re doing much worse than throwing your money away. You’re actively funding evil. If you think that spending a billion dollars to defend pedophiles and rapists is a good use of your hard-earned cash, perhaps you should run for Pope. You could hardly do worse. At least Wall Street is honest about its greed and lust.”
Ouch! I’m still technically a (non-practicing) Catholic. I go to church and donate (meagerly). But I’m not offended by Pavlina’s
tirade. There is some element of truth to his critique. But in spite of
the stereotype there are more responsible Catholic priests than the bad
rotten apples. However, to call a religion “evil” for protecting itself
is like GW Bush calling other nations as “axis of evil.” I think it’s
more appropriate to say that, just like any organism, religion has a
strong drive for self-preservation, especially the biggest, oldest, and
6) “There’s no greater threat to religious people than to profess your desire to think for yourself.“
But this is a double-edged sword. Religion strengthens social networks and
from the perspective of the group, this is good. On the other hand,
the same is true for most organizations, take the military for example. That’s why a soldier’s job is to
obey. My point is that group think is not always wrong and individuality not always desirable. There is a reason for every season. Free-thinking people
are like cats. It’s almost impossible to herd them. We can’t be all cats, all the time.
“Since I get asked this question all the time, I might as well answer it publicly. Do I accept Jesus Christ as my personal savior? No more than I’d accept a credit card from Crapital One.”
What’s wrong with credit cards? It’s how you (responsibly) use them that matters
7) “When you subscribe to an established religion, you have only two choices. You can become an idiot, or you can become a hypocrite.”
Hmm. I wonder if Pavlina thinks of Tony Blair as an idiot or a hypocrite.
8) “Please tell me you aren’t still practicing the religion you happened to be born into? Surely you’ve outgrown your baby clothes by now. Isn’t it time you also outgrew your baby religion?”
answer Pavlina’s question: Yes, I am still practicing some of them. I
still pray the Our Father. I do the sign of the cross. I go to church
for my friends and family. But I’m no longer bounded by the limited
perspective of my religion. I do it not out of hypocrisy but mostly out of
camaraderie and kinship. Catholicism will always be part of my upbringing even if I
no longer exclusively identify as a Catholic. There’s no point in
denying it. Denying my upbringing is like denying my feet. I have no
desire of replacing it with New Age narcissistic beliefs. I look at myself
as a cultural Christian with a hint of a Buddhist agnostic and then some.
9) “Historically speaking, religious people loved to fight each other. Instead of unconditional love, they practice conditional loyalty.”
speaking, people love to fight each other, whether be they religious or
not. But yeah, religion is often used as a tool to inflame the fighting
and the illusory division. But is there such a thing as unconditional love?
10) “Stop trying to comfort yourself by swallowing religious nonsense. If you really need something to believe in, then believe in your own potential. Put your trust in your own intellect.”
true but depending on who’s interpreting these statements these could
result in people getting trapped in classic New Age narcissism. And while intellect is
crucial, what about emotional and social intelligence? What about a
sense of reverie from time to time? What about surrendering control to
a deeper sense of serendipity? Can we trust our intellect in our deep
In general, Pavlina is addressing the less sophisticated religious adherents, mostly those who adhere to exoteric category of religions. Pavlina’s anti-religious post is mostly old and tired
criticisms on organized religion. They are simplified rants with not
much philosophical and intellectual sophistication. Pavlina’s take on
religion doesn’t take into account developmental psychology, stages of faith, as well as the religious politics of fictive kinship.
It’s very limited and reflects Pavlina’s own biased (and some would say, New Agey)
world views. That said, it’s possible that Pavlina did this by purpose
in order to get his simple point across to his audience. But I feel
like Pavlina had channeled his angry and wounded child with his post.
All in all, in Pavlina’s world view, if you have a religious
affiliation, you’re either an idiot or a hypocrite. This either/or thinking
is very simplistic. This makes spiritual figures like the Dalia Lama a
hypocrite for practicing his Tibetan religious upbringing. I don’t know
about you but there’s something inherently flawed with that kind of
intellectual reasoning. So instead of having no religion, how about growing beyond our mythic and ethnocentric religions? There is a big difference between the two. The former is akin to John Lennon’s utopian vision. The latter is more anchored on the reality of psycho-social human development.
[Thanks! I could use some coffee :) ]