The Necessity of Atheism (Brooks)/Chapter V
We believe what we believe, not because we have been convinced by such and such arguments, but because we are of such and such a disposition. C.E.M. Joad
The mind of the ordinary man is in so imperfect a condition that it requires a creed; that is to say, a theory concerning the unknown and the unknowable in which it may place its deluded faith and be at rest. Winwood Reade.
Generations followed and what had been offered as hypothetical theological suppositions were through custom and tradition taken for granted as unquestioned truth. Llewelyn Powys.
The Martian has had his attention drawn to the statement that religion in some form or other has existed from most primitive times down to the present day. The theologians point to this as a proof of the existence of a supreme being. An investigation of this assertion leads the Martian to the conclusion that religions have continued to exist mainly because of the power which inherited superstitions wield over mankind. Men are born with a marked tendency towards superstitions.
Certain isolated families of men are born with an inherited tendency towards tuberculosis. Most of these are born, not with an active tuberculosis, but some as yet imperfectly understood tendency, a defect in their protoplasmic make-up that renders them an easy prey to the tubercle bacillus if they are exposed to it. Similarly, generations of men have been born with a weakened mental vitality towards superstition; a weakened mental capacity that renders their minds an easy prey to that fear which manifests itself in superstition, creed, religion—the God-idea. It was Karl Marx who remarked that, "The tradition of all the generations of the past weighs down like an Alp upon the brain of the living."
Since the days of our racial childhood, our beliefs have been handed down from generation to generation, and they have persisted since in all ages it was forbidden to question their existence. Man has persuaded himself that it is so just because he has said it for so long and so often. The force of repetition is great; it is, in fact, taken by a vast majority of men as the equivalent of proof.
Most men have to accept their religions ready made. Their daily tasks leave them no time or opportunity for a personal search. The toil for bread is incessant, there is not sufficient leisure to verify the sources of their religious beliefs. Moreover, the ecclesiastic's answers to the riddles of life are easier, by far, to grasp than the answers of science. These two factors, of innate mental inertia and force of repetition, are well manifested by the present tactics of advertising. The manufacturer of any product well knows that constant repetition and the dangling of his product before the eyes of the public will lead to a widespread acceptance of the advertising slogans propounded for his article.
The force of so-called authority has aggravated this mental inertia. It takes a tremendous amount of will power and mental courage for any individual to assert an opinion that runs counter to the accepted mode of thinking. It is much easier and much more pleasant to give oneself passively to that delusion of grandeur, that delusion that pleasantly drugs the mind with the assumption that there is a supreme being who is personally interested in our well-being; a providence who, like a school master, at his pleasure dispenses rewards and punishments; as immortality, Heaven and Hell. So firmly has this become entrenched in the minds of. men that the irrationalities which manifest themselves against such a conception make no impression. Schopenhauer well states, "Nothing is more provoking, when we are arguing against a man with reasons and explanations, and taking all pains to convince him, than to discover at last that he will not understand, that we have to do with his will"
The Martian, knowing the widespread extent of religious beliefs and their supposed influence in our daily lives, is prepared to find in our annals a vast literature that would attest to the overwhelming benefits that mankind had derived from his religious beliefs.
He is amazed to find that the little good which religion had accomplished, had occurred at the time when our race was in its infancy. Just as fear is instilled into the mind of the child to protect it from the dangers of its environment before the child has reached the age when it can use its reason for protection, just so had religion, by its implantation of fear, served its purpose in the days of our racial childhood. The child, however, as soon as it learns to reason, replaces those fears by a logical comprehension of the laws governing his environment. But in religious matters this fear has clung to man tenaciously; and while at first serving a protective function, at the present stage of civilization constitutes an embryonic impediment. The assertion of ecclesiastics that without the aid of religious learning and influence our civilization would have been retarded is a statement that a study of the development of man shows to be directly opposed to the facts; that religion has been the greatest impediment in the road to progress. This will be shown in the subsequent chapters. The oft-repeated assertion that, during the Middle Ages, ecclesiastic influence was the saving grace is well refuted by Dr. William J. Robinson:
"We are told by the Church apologists that during the Middle Ages the priests and monks kept up the torch of learning, that, being the only literate people, they brought back the study of the classics. Historically speaking, this is about the most impudent statement that one could imagine. It was the Church that retarded human progress at least one thousand years, it is the Church that put a thick, impenetrable pall over the sun of learning and science, so that humanity was enveloped in utter darkness, and if the priests and monks later learned to read and write (from the Arabs, Jews, and Greeks exiled from Constantinople after 1453), it is because they wanted to keep the power in their hands; the people they did not permit to learn either to read or write. Even the reading of the Bible, bear in mind,, was considered a crime. We are told that the priests and monks built hospitals and gave alms to the poor. Having gotten enormous tracts of the best land into, their hands, so that the people, were starving, they were willing to throw a bone occasionally to the latter. It cost them nothing and it gave them a reputation for charity. They built enormous monasteries with well filled cellars, and lived on the fat of the land, while the people lived in wretched hovels, working their lives away for a crust of bread. The beasts, the domestic animals lived a more comfortable life than did the men, women, and children of the people. And the Church never, never raised a finger to ameliorate their condition. It kept them in superstitious darkness and helped the temporal lords— for a long period the spiritual were also the temporal lords—to keep them in fear, subjection and slavery."
The Martian being an impartial observer examined what had been done by Christianity for the intellectual and material advancement of humanity during her long reign, and what had been done by science and purely secular knowledge in its brief period of activity, the period when science and secular knowledge had partially liberated themselves from ecclesiastical domination. He came to the conclusion that in instituting a comparison he had established a contrast.