Is religion a form of authority?

Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction, and a general moral instruction without a religious foundation is built on air; consequently, all character training and religion must be derived from faith; we need believing people.

– Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf

Yes, I thought I’d start today’s post with a quote from one of the most famous and ruthless men who ever walked the planet. Adolph was indeed a religious man. Whilst he clearly identified himself as a Catholic, he also is religious in the sense he that he followed a strict, cruel dogma that could not – under any circumstances – be questioned. Religion today is obviously no where near as extreme, but the same form of unquestioning following tends to occur. If, say, the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity), were questioned using logic and deductive reasoning (e.g. “if God is morally righteous, why did he allow Hitler to come to power?“), then they – quite simply – would cease to exist in their current form. They rely upon authority for their survival; and what better authority than an ancient convoluted book whose sole existence has been reshaped, altered, censored and re-written across the centuries and is constantly being recited by men in clear authority (e.g. Pope)?

"I don't need to think for myself. I have this book to do it for me."

"I don't need to think for myself. I have this book to do it for me."

The reason the Christian Lobby is so avidly against any attempt to cement the separation between Church and State is because it means people will abandon its dogma and find their own path. But this is a good thing. One of my favourite philosophers, Bertrand Russell had this to say in his aptly titled essay “A brief Outline of Intellectual Rubbish“:

As soon as we abandon our own reason, and are content to rely upon authoritiy, there is no end to our troubles. Whose authority? The Old Tesament? The New Testament? The Koran? In practice, people choose the book considered sacred by the community in which they are born, and out of that book they choose the parts they like, ignoring the others. At one time, the most influential text in the bible was: “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live”. Nowadays, people pass over this text, in silence if possible; if not, with an apology. And so, even when we have a sacred book, we still choose as truth whatever suits our own prejudices. No Catholic, for instance, takes seriously the text which says that a bishop should be the husband of one wife.

Bertrand’s digress makes quite an amount of sense to me. All ‘holy books’ effectively act as a Rorschach test and are ‘piloted’ by a figure with power (such as the Pope, or the Ayatollah of Iran) to drive home their own belief system. It’s an intellectual dictatorship; a dogma, by which one may find themselves doing something against their own wishes through the whims of another entity simply because they happen to have faith in an ancient book.  As one anonymous commentator (on a forum somewhere) once remarked “Philosophy is questions that may never be answered. Religion is answers that may never be questioned“. Spot-on, I think.

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5 Responses to Is religion a form of authority?

  1. 1. “Adolph was indeed a religious man. Whilst he clearly identified himself as a Catholic”

    Hitler was born to Roman Catholic parents, yes, but when did he identify himself as a Catholic? He was Christian, and he did believe in a blue-eyed, blond-haired Christ, but he was in no way orthodox about his beliefs. Look at ‘Positive Christianity’ – which he did not claim had lineage from the Church of Rome – or his attitude towards Protestantism and Islam, or even the passages in Mein Kampf attacking Catholicism. In addition, he never went to mass and never received a sacrament.

    Hitler saw religion as a tool to greater power. “We do not want any other god than Germany itself. It is essential to have fanatical faith and hope and love in and for Germany,” as he is quoted in A History of National Socialism.

    2. “say, the three monotheistic religions (Judaism, Islam and Christianity) ”

    What about the Sikhs? The Confucians? The Taoists? Zoroastrians? There are plenty of monotheistic religions besides the Abrahamic ones.

    3. “were questioned using logic and deductive reasoning (e.g. “if God is morally righteous, why did he allow Hitler to come to power?“), then they – quite simply – would cease to exist in their current form. They rely upon authority for their survival; and what better authority than an ancient convoluted book whose sole existence has been reshaped, altered, censored and re-written across the centuries and is constantly being recited by men in clear authority (e.g. Pope)?”

    No real criticisms for this point, except that I’m not sure how deductive reasoning really applies. It’s logical, sure, but it’s not exactly deductive…

    4. “All ‘holy books’ effectively act as a Rorschach test and are ‘piloted’ by a figure with power (such as the Pope, or the Ayatollah of Iran) to drive home their own belief system. It’s an intellectual dictatorship; a dogma, by which one may find themselves doing something against their own wishes through the whims of another entity simply because they happen to have faith in an ancient book. ”

    Very apt observation. I like the Rorschach analogy.

  2. Reuben says:

    Nat, good points. You are correct on 2. I should have just said “Abrahamic”. However, this is a distraction from the crux of the problem.

    4. This doesn’t pardon religion’s role in making America a stupid place, creating Israel in it’s current place and making the world a whole lot more violent and slower to develop. Remove religion, supplant it with reason and with a bit of luck, we might be better off.

  3. I actually don’t doubt that we’d be better off. I’m a humanist first, theocratist second. I’d just feel like we’d be much better off with a compromise… but no one, it seems, really wants a compromise. I guess it is the nature of such things, though.

  4. Brian says:

    “Yes, I thought I’d start today’s post with a quote from one of the most famous and ruthless men who ever walked the planet.”

    I take it Rupert Murdoch wouldn’t give you permission to use one of his quotes then?

  5. Anonymous says:

    Let’s answer the question. Religion is a form of authortity. Christianity is a spirtitual belief system. The bible as well as other teachings gives humans a set of spirtitual beliefs to live by that act in accordance with God’s teachings. Humanity has fallen because they fell away from God and religion. When people worship other God’s the cities usually fell such as the Roman Empire. Religion betters humanity on a spirtitual level.

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