What do I know, and how do I know it?

A couple weeks ago I noticed an announcement in the local weekly newspaper about an upcoming lecture that had the provocative title, God on Trial, which was scheduled for the following Sunday morning, a time when the majority of Americans would be attending services at one church or another. I was intrigued and made a note to attend.

When I arrived at the lobby of the auditorium, I found myself amongst a throng of people who were engaged in lively conversation. It turned out they were members of the sponsoring organization that calls itself the Center for Inquiry (http://www.centerforinquiry.net/ ), which I had not heard of before. Rather than try to butt into the conversations, I proceeded on into the auditorium and found myself an aisle seat with a good view of the lectern.

What followed was a thoroughly fascinating presentation by a man named Richard W. Morris, who went on at length about his experiences as a lawyer, prosecutor, professor, aviator, skeptic, and, as he eventually revealed, novelist. His lecture was largely based on his latest novel by the same title. As I told him during the Q&A session, what he had said was quite enough to convince me to buy his book.

I left with an autographed copy of God on Trial, (http://www.godontrial.ws/) which I found to be thoroughly engaging, and finished reading within a few days. Like most popular novels these days, it is filled with plenty of juicy sex, intrigue, deception and murder, but a great deal of history, philosophy, and logic besides. That’s the kind of story I like, one that is not only suspenseful and entertaining, but one that I can learn something from. The novel recounts many of the atrocities that have been perpetrated down through the ages in the name of one religion or another, particularly those of Christianity, like the “Holy Inquisition” and the various “witch trials,” and it highlights many of the discrepancies and contradictions that exist within the Bible.

The plot line centers on a blasphemy trial in which “the State must first prove the existence of God in court, using the standard Rules of Evidence.” A major sub-plot describes the corruption, debauchery and financial shenanigans that go on within a major religious organization that bears a striking resemblance to several well-know groups.

Throughout the book, David, the protagonist and the defendant in the trial, who also happens to be a Ph.D. candidate and teacher of philosophy at the local university, keeps repeating the question to his students: “What do I know, and how do I know it?” Quite a legitimate question, I think, and one that I have given much consideration over the years. In my youth I was taught that we can come to knowledge either (1) through our senses and rational processes, or (2) through “Divine revelation.”

Philosophers get into some pretty deep debates about the nature of “reality” and “consciousness,” but I won’t even try to go there. It seems quite evident that what we experience through our senses leads us to learn, to know, and to understand as we process information through our rational mind. It’s this “Divine revelation” that causes so much controversy and strife. Is it truly a way of knowing? If so, where does it come from? Is that what we call “God?”

At a practical level, I concluded long ago that most (if not ALL) religion is a racket. There has never been any shortage of people—priests, rabbis, ministers, imams, etc.—who claim to have had a Divine revelation, and/or who claim to speak for God – “Thus saith the LORD….,” etc. Some of these, no doubt, believe what they preach, but what is the foundation for their beliefs? What we “think” we know about these things is largely determined by an accident of birth. If I had been born into a Muslim or Jewish family I would have been instilled with a different set of beliefs. As it happened, it’s been my Roman Catholic indoctrination I’ve had to overcome. Having been the product of 17 years of Catholic schools, it’s something close to “miraculous” that I ever succeeded. Maybe it was my personal “Divine revelation” that did it. — Santos

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15 Replies to “What do I know, and how do I know it?”

  1. Very thought provoking, Santos. I hope this portends more offerings in the same vein. Just came in and found your post.

    Your conclusions are similar to my own. Most religion is a racket, especially at the top. A lot of the little people are very sincere, especially in the beginning of their involvment. The really sincere ones usually opt out somewhere along the way. It took me 22 years to start coming to my senses. By then, I was 40 and fully mature. The departure was scary, but I’ve never regretted my decision.

  2. Thanks for the post Santos! I also was raised in a Catholic church and spent a sentence of several years in one of their schools. What I recall about those years most vividly was the abuse heaped upon the students.

    The girls who attended through the high school years tended to be sluts, and the guys leaned toward drug and alcohol abuse. I don’t know if anyone ever made a study between religious schools vs. public schools in regards to how the kids turned out after graduation, but no doubt, it would be interesting.

    In the following years after entering public schools, I ditched the confessional, the Host, the teachings and hid my shadow from ever falling upon the doors of that wretched institution. It would be another twenty years before I participated again in playing church with the minister as a stand between me and the God.

    It was my Catholic education that always left me wondering in the back of my mind whether there really was a hell or heaven, and where I was posed to land up after I bit the dust.

    Enter Armstrong-ism. The first few years in the gulag were actually quite interesting, but I kept a closet in the back of my mind full of questions that the ministry never could answer. By then I understood what “a bad attitude” was and where it would lead me to. That being the lake of fire. I had discovered…
    Rule #1. “The guru is always right.”

    What you wrote as to societal norms to adopt the religion of the surrounding society was what led me to buy into the “God Factory.”
    What killed it was a man named Tkach. If God allowed all these mistakes to be made by old man Armstrong, then the God was never behind the heretical, money grubbing, mind controlling, rule infested religious cult!

    When I look back to those years, I can say that Armstrong was a man utterly without honor, without principles, without a shred of genuine decency or patriotism. He was the ultimate exterminator of religious life for thousands, and the grand compelling creator of a vast army of atheists.

    1. I recommend “The Man Who Sued God”, too. Really takes the wind out of the ministers of the major world religions, who have to deal with the titular character.

      The ending sucked, though. I’m sorry whoever wrote it blinked, and didn’t stick to a straight atheist ending.

  3. Thanks, William, for that referral. It looks like a funny movie.
    Here’s a YouTube clip I found about a Nebraska State Senator who actually did sue God.

  4. When I look back to those years, I can say that Armstrong was a man utterly without honor, without principles, without a shred of genuine decency or patriotism. He was the ultimate exterminator of religious life for thousands, and the grand compelling creator of a vast army of atheists.

    AMEN! . . . uh, I mean, thank God! No . . . no, that’s not it. Oh well, thankfully, HWA did do some of us that favor. As a member of that “vast army of atheists”, I get to be an anti-theist – who are of the more obnoxious variety of atheism. The very word, “God”, makes me think of some witch doctor or shaman living separately from the rest of the tribe but being provided for and feared by his people.

    They haven’t changed much, have they? The life sucking parasites of religion, in my opinion, are still the same old witch doctors that they were thousands of years ago. Will the world ever be free of “God” and his minions? For as long as people give respect to his minions, no.

    1. Did you read the comments? Religionists are never convinced by anything that science has proved. Christians will trudge over the same crappy road they always have with the cross of Jesus going before them.

      Some are literalists, some are liberalists but all of them are denialists and will prefer to believe in fantasy. Sad, ain’t it?

      1. I believe it is the god side of the brain. Until evolution eliminates this or man becomes enlightened (and he won’t) religion will continue to be a force to be reckoned with.

        One thing about science is that it always makes corrections as to its former findings. If there truly is a higher force, then that force has not revealed itself to the whole of mankind as of this hour. The debate shall never end in my opinion. You just cannot know “God.”

        If your the first to go here on the blog, and if there is life after death, send us a message, or better yet, send me a check in the sum of six figures!

        Either way, I do not believe you can absolutely find God as a yes or no in a book. It takes personal experience, and that by your own prejudices or expectations. What is God, who is God, it depends on a crucible of events in ones life. Whatever God is, it is not what Herbie described. The old coot was wrong so many times, his worshipers say he “WAS RIGHT!” About what I don’t know. Maybe its about how the sun rises in the East………

  5. “…his worshipers say he “WAS RIGHT!” About what I don’t know.”

    I agree. These people who are so blind that they maintain Herb was right have no connection to reality. I also have former associates who still cling to creationism. They’re big wheels in the Creationist Society.

    The whole damn state of Texas is so deluded that they have injected turmoil into educational textbooks and they want nothing to do with Jefferson, one of our greatest thinkers and founding fathers. I’m sorry my son had to move to Houston to have work so my granddaughter has to try to get an education in that stupid state. What can one expect with Dubya coming from there. The only one I can think of in politics who is dumber is Sarah Palin. I wonder if the great African minister is still praying over her for protection from witches? One would think the madness of Salem would be a thing of the past. Not in Alaska, and probably not in Texas.

  6. “Will the world ever be free of “God” and his minions? For as long as people give respect to his minions, no.”

    Sadly, Corky, I’ve had to come to the same conclusion. Each generation is led down the same path by essentially the same forces of the world they are innocently born into.

    It happens in religion and in politics, the two main enemies of the human race. Legally, we have them separated in this country, but in reality, they have a death grip around just about everyone’s throat. The evangelicals and fundamentalists are just as determined as the Taliban to strengthen that grip through whatever subterfuge they have available.

  7. Hey, glad to see a CFI sponsored event mentioned here. Did you know a former WCG member hosted CFI’s very popular podcast, Point of Inquiry, right here in St. Louis? His name is D.J. Grothe and he attended the same congregation as me when we were both teenagers. I ran into him again as a result of listening to the podcast. He’s now moved on to bigger and better things: presidency of the James Randi Educational Foundation and host of a new podcast in a similar vein as PoI called For Good Reason.

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