Gut Rumbles

October 14, 2003

good question

Jay Solo posted a Question of the Week that I want to answer. Maybe my answer will explain something about who I am. Here is the question:

Even if you are religious normally, pretend that we have learned there is no deity or anything along those lines. The prophets and such were all just men, whether deluded, imaginitive, or what. What we see is what we get, plus what we can't see that is more extensive and strange than we have yet imagined, however natural in origin.

Okay then... From that perspective, what would you make of the historic - and prehistoric - rise of religions and related practices? Would you say it was a case of God not existing, but we had to invent him? Was it imperative to fill a need most humans have? On the balance, has the existence of religion been a positive thing, a negative thing, or just a thing; neutral? Conversely, would religion being provably null and void be, on the balance, good, bad, or neutral for the human population overall?

Once upon a time, a village of the MOOG tribe learned to move out of their caves and live in huts that they built from wood and thatch. They hunted and gathered for a while, until Moffer, a smart little boy, learned to save seeds and plant his own crop. He grew a lot of the sacred weed that the village elders made beer from and he became rich selling his crop to the drunkards. After that resounding success, EVERYBODY started growing his/her own crops. Life was good for the MOOG.

Then, one night, a terrible thunderstorm decended upon the village. Lightning flashed from the dark sky and the ground trembled from the thunder. Everyone was frightened and the children screamed. "What can we do? What can we do?" asked the bravest hunters in the tribe.

About that time, Alfonso woke up. Alfonso was a skinny, pock-marked skuzzbucket who never hit a lick at anything in his life but somehow managed to bum enough beer to get drunk unto unconsciousness every day. Men hated him and wimmen wouldn't touch him with a ten-foot pole. But Alfonso was smart, the way a rat is smart. He saw a golden opportunity in that thunderstorm.

"I'LL SAVE US ALL!" he yelled, and ran outside to do a crazy dance amid the rain and the lightning. He figured that he had nothing to lose. If he got struck by lightning and killed on the spot, it was no big deal. His life sucked. So, he yoo-hooed and boo-hooed and howled at the sky. People watching were most impressed.

The storm went away and nobody in the MOOG tribe was dead. Alfonso said, "You have ME to thank for that, because GOD listens to ME," and he became the very first priest in the world.

The next time a thunderstorm came, Alfonso was so drunk that he slept through the whole thing. Orrg woke him up the next morning. "I need a favor, Mr. Priest, sir. My hut was hit by a lightning bolt last night and I never want that to happen again. Can you make my bad luck go away?"

Alfonso assured Orrg that he could, but insisted on sleeping with Orrg's wife and taking the fattest pig from his herd as payment. Orrg reluctantly agreed. So, Alfonso screwed Orrg's wife, ate his fattest pig and went back to drinking beer.

Another thunderstorm came, Orrg's hut was hit by lightning again and Orrg was pissed. He came to kill Alfonso for dicking out on a fair trade. "YOU GODDAM LIAR!" he said, while poking a spear into Alphonso's throat.

But Alphonso was smart, the way a rat is smart.

"I spoke to God and he told me that you were not sincere in your sacrifice. You hid your fattest pig and gave me the second best one. Then, your wife was a dud in bed. I did not receive what I was promised and God hurled down his wrath upon you. I didn't screw this up. YOU DID!"

Orrg had to admit that everything the priest said was true. He DID hide the fattest pig. His wife WAS a dud in bed. "How do I make this up to you, Oh, Man of God?" Orrg asked.

"I want your fattest pig and I want to screw your wife again," replied Alphonso. "And this time, she'd better give me a blow-job!"

Orrg went back to his burned-out hut, beat the shit out of his wife and sent both her and his fattest pig over to Alphonso's place. The wife put out like a Las Vegas hooker and the pig was delicious. Orrg never had lightning strike his hut again.

Some people might call that sheer coincidence, but Orrg believed in God after that. Alphonso got a lot of pussy and a lot of pork because other people starting believing, too. Pretty soon thereafter, we had the Catholic Church. Unlike Alphonso, a lot of Catholic priests prefer to screw your children rather than your wife.

That's the only real difference I see between then and now. Man didn't invent God. Con-men did.

That's what I think about religion.


Well, since you've accounted for the priests who prefer children, I guess this is as close as we'll ever get to the truth on religion.

I'm kind of wondering something, though. How the fuck did Alphonso get his name? I mean, most of the MOOG had monosyllabic names.

Just curious

Posted by: Da Goddess on October 14, 2003 08:21 PM

Joanie - God inspired his parents to give Alphonso such a clever name! ;>

Acidman - You ever read James P. Hogan's "Giants" trilogy; Inherit The Stars, The Gentle Giants of Ganymede, Giants Star, and a 4th one years later? That was pretty much his take on religion, except for the con being imposed externally in a variant of the Ancient Astronauts theory or Niven's God gambit.

FWIW I tend toward your interpretation as a strong possibility. Even if that isn't how or why it started, even if some promulgators of it truly believe, there are those preaching it who surely believe they are in on a great con.

Posted by: Jay Solo on October 14, 2003 08:42 PM

Well, that's a truly cynical view of religion. I think that religion got it's start as a way to
overcome death. The whold purpose of religion is to help one die and explain what happens when death occurs. Because we don't want to accept the finality of death, we
want to contiue existing. Granted it is also used to explain other things. And because of the power the priests had over the population,
the priests became autocratic. This seems to be a constant throughout history. The more power the priests had the more abusive they became. Doesn't matter if it's Catholic, Muslim or Buddhist, the priesthood tends toward corruption. With power over death, you have power over life.

Posted by: Ray on October 14, 2003 08:42 PM

I think it (religion) is a crutch for people who can't deal with the real world, the shit that happens in that world and that when we die, we're going to have maggots crawling in our eye sockets. Deal with it, people...

Posted by: Lisa on October 14, 2003 08:47 PM

That's a very broad and deep subject you've tapped into today, Rob. I'd love to fisk it, but don't have the nads, considering it would be dueling with a champion. I'll just say you've written one very clever and imaginative assessment on a subject that has many other speculations.

Posted by: Indigo on October 14, 2003 08:50 PM

This topic reminds me of something Mark Twain wrote in his autobiography:
"In religion and politics people's beliefs and convictions are in almost every case gotten at second-hand, and without examination, from authorities who have not themselves examined the questions at issue but have taken them at second-hand from other non-examiners, whose opinions about them were not worth a brass farthing.

Posted by: MAL on October 14, 2003 09:09 PM

I b'lieve it was the late great R.A.Heinlein who wrote (crudely paraphrased) "Religion exists to ALWAYS benefit the shaman, not the tribe."

Posted by: Larry on October 15, 2003 06:17 AM

Only one problem with your story, acidman. The people who "invented" Christianity didn't do it for profit or self-gain. On the contrary, they were beaten and tortured for spreading the gospel. Yet they continued spreading it until they were killed for doing so. Those guys weren't conmen. They believed that they had seen the risen Christ.

Posted by: Tim on October 15, 2003 06:30 AM

I think that most people confuse god and religion. Two very different aspects of life and in most cases completely independent, one might even say mutually exclusive, since religion is, historicly (sic?) a tool for control of individuals or societies by elites. See socialism, communism, fascism et. al. Notice in particular the Catholic church and Islam.

Posted by: Paul on October 15, 2003 06:59 AM

The success of the con is demonstrated by the fact that even some non-believers consider religious considerations to be deep.

Friends, religious claims are either true or false. A falsehood is shallow by nature.

Posted by: Brett on October 15, 2003 07:31 AM

The opiate of the masses is not oxycontin.

I wonder, though, since nature is perfect and man is not, how come that is? What if you are wrong about God? We are only gonna find out (at least our souls arguably will) after we are dead.

I think a lot of folks bank on that concept. Hey, what harm is there for me to believe while I am alive, that way I am protected when I die. Sort of a shitty way to justify Sunday morning service, but there it is.

Posted by: on October 15, 2003 10:08 AM

well, it's no crazier than any of the religious ideas on the planet. :)

Posted by: pril on October 15, 2003 10:51 AM

You know, I often get irritated at christians because they have turned the religion into a social club where they are so much smarter, and better!, than everyone else. But then I read or hear an atheist talking about religion, and they SOUND THE EXACT SAME WAY!

Get over yourselves. You guys don't know everything. And pretentiousness does not make your views any more appealing.

Posted by: Kong on October 15, 2003 11:09 AM

Religon..there's a touchy subject. I prefer spirituality, religion is the condensed beliefs of the ruling class, used to keep the sheep in line. Spirituality is a personal relationship with your beliefs, whatever they may be.

Posted by: LittleJoe on October 15, 2003 01:21 PM

My dad lived to be 76. He was a hard drinking, hard smoking, womanizing symbol of what a WW2 belly-gunner was trained to be. He could beat the living shit out of any man that dared to cross him, was MENSA quality of intellect and had a full head of hair even through intensive chemotherapy.

He also was a devout Catholic.

I grew up being forced to chant the monotone dogma like all the other good sheep. I broke away as soon as I could.

Then I went to see him as he was dying. He couldn't make it to Mass like he loved to do, so the priest came to the house, expecting nothing in return but to give comfort to an elderly couple who were about to be separated by cancer. Even through the pain, the ever growing panic that filled him, those words, the words of God some would say, gave him comfort as he faced death and gave comfort to my mother as she faced being left alone after 51 years of marriage. Maybe it was a placebo, maybe it was "mind over matter", but the change was so sudden and encompassing that I took pause and almost believed again.

What I do believe is that if it brings comfort to those in need, then more fucking power to them; They've got one up on us.

Posted by: Thomas on October 17, 2003 12:57 AM

Good story, and it reflects pretty well my own views of organized religion and the priestly caste, but it leaves out why the MOOG tribe was so willing to accept Alfonso's claims. We're primates, insatiably curious monkeys with the most advanced brains on the planet. We search out patterns in the world around us, and when we can't find them we make them up and impose them.

In other words, we seek out explanations for everything, from the smallest questions to the biggest. We don't just want them, we need them, and for the vast majority of human existence the best one available has been, "It's the will of the gods." This may have been less than ideal, but at least it was an explanation, and we made do with it.

Now, of course, we know about physics, chemistry, biology and cosmology, from the Big Bang to subatomic particles. We've got explanations that are better than "it's God's will," because at least they're falsifiable and can be tested reliably. But we have paid a price for that.

I've read historians who believe that one of the most profound events of the late 19th century was that it was no longer necessary for an intelligent, educated, reasonable person to believe in God. Science was starting to explain things too well. This created profound intellectual and emotional shockwaves throughout Western culture, as the 20th century was starting, shockwaves that led to, well, the 20th century, and all its horrors. These shockwaves are now spreading into the non-Western world, especially the world of Islam, and just look what's happening.

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