Up@dawn 2.0

Sunday, February 19, 2012

Group 2: Margaret Downey

The Will to Bullshit

When Margret Downey slammed her Bible shut in front of the pastor at the Truett Baptist church in Long Beach, California, her “sheeez” moment punctuated the fact that her theological cognitive dissonance had reached critical mass. Matthew 19:26 had provided the final grain of sand that collapsed the wall of religious dogma that had built between real-world reality and the one fanaticized about in bronze-age literature. The phrase, “with God all things are possible” is such an anomaly. It doesn’t take a degree in Sociology or a grant from the NSF to glance around and see this simply isn’t the case—no matter which god is petitioned.

Downey’s incredulity was met with the one method necessary for theists to constantly maintain logically indefensible positions of unwarranted prestige and power in the face of intense skeptical inquiry: the will to bullshit. In a world of theism plagued by inconsistent claims, presuppositional pandering, logical inconsistencies and circular reasoning, theists have had to employ wildly imaginable explanations—as well as inventing new ones—for the capricious nature of the universe in order to maintain a countenance reflective of some semblance of seriousness while asserting the existence of a benevolent, all powerful god. 

Bullshit has many detractors as well as detractions. Harry G. Frankfurt, the author of “On Bullshit,” said in his opening line that “one of the most salient features of our culture is that there is so much bullshit.” And further (on a non-ironic comical note), George Carlin is famous for saying that religion is the biggest bullshit story of all. I would have to agree. Frankfurt defines it this way: “Bullshit is unavoidable when circumstances require someone to talk without knowing what he is talking about. Thus the production of bullshit is stimulated whenever a person’s obligations or opportunities to speak about some topic exceed his knowledge of the facts that are relevant to that topic.” Does this sound familiar? It should because it’s a necessary condition of faith.

But, as conscious beings, what is the natural nemesis of bullshit—the archenemy of unfounded assertions? Simple: empirical facts. Facts based on independently confirmed and falsifiable data gives us a far better projection based on probability of real-world reality than ancient texts written by sandal-wearing sheepherders that made wild guesses based on ever-dependable fear and anxiety. What’s surprising is that the contemporary proliferation of religious bullshit relies on the strained mental gymnastics of “interpreting” scripture in a way that somewhat squares with modernity but still allows the all-male-dominated leadership to wallow in the patriarchal despotism predominantly required to maintain a dogma at odds with a civil society. Evidently, such a formidable display of contempt and deception is carefully concealed by donning ornate jewelry, funny hats and robes.   

Margret Downey found her detraction of bullshit in “outside” information: the World Book Encyclopedia.  That’s how she “discovered the difference between mythology and reality.” She touts the Internet as the “modern-day World Book Encyclopedia. Several atheist authors noted that if you replace  “God” with “invisible friend” in any religious text, the bullshit is much more noticeable although the outcome and measurable consequences are the exactly the same. Plug in Apollo, Zeus, Poseidon, etc. and it starts to make sense what is happening. In today’s information age and the Internet, Homer’s gods wouldn’t have a chance. So, one would only have to imagine that contemporary gods will suffer the same fate in light of overwhelming evidence. If gods were so important, one would think they would, at least, have their own YouTube channel.

All this being said, there is an upside to bullshit. I think God has unwittingly served some purpose and, I admit, that there is a bit of revelatory truth to Matthew 19:26: “With God all things are possible.” Consider this: think about all of the bullshit postulated about all the numerous gods over many millennia; contrived and conjectured in very conceivable manner, which, even to this day, comes to no avail. But all the arguments for the existence of gods have ever sharpened the tools of reason thus empowering the champions of clear and precise thinking without diminishing the wonder of the universe. Every new attempt to subvert the truth with bullshit only serves sharpen the sword of reason and elicits yet another “sheeez” moment recorded directly into the archives of intellectual debate for future reference—further honing the blade with the stone.

So, in a sense, with God, all things may be possible. As more and more people literally and figuratively slam their Bibles and “holy” books shut in the face of bullshit, civil societies certainly take another small step towards the veracity of empirical facts and reason.

The more we can prevent religion from hijacking our most precious, personal, emotional, and spiritual moments—however one wants to define it—the more we, as moral sentient beings, can stop focusing on some mythological “invisible friend” and dedicate all that precious, finite time towards our friends, family, and fellow human beings.

These things are possible—with or without a god. 


  1. My favorite line in Downey's "Bye Bull" Story; "Do you want life after death? Create a legacy worthy remembering."

    But will we never get enough bullshit? There are days when I'm pretty sure I've passed my limit. You too, I'll bet.

  2. Dean, I particularly loved this sentiment: The more we can prevent religion from hijacking our most precious, personal, emotional, and spiritual moments—however one wants to define it—the more we, as moral sentient beings, can stop focusing on some mythological “invisible friend” and dedicate all that precious, finite time towards our friends, family, and fellow human beings.

    I would love to go a step further and say that we shouldn't allow ANYTHING to hijack those moments, we should simply enjoy them and be in them.

    1. I liked that too. It seems so often that religion is engineered to do the exact opposite, by focusing all our love and attention on God, at the expense of our fellow man. At least the Ye Olde religions seem to be interpreted that way. Some of the newer iterations are more people focused, so I guess that's an improvement.

  3. So maybe we should privatize faith, keep it out of the public arena? Separate church, state, and demos generally? Sounds good, if unlikely. But on the other hand, consider Austin Dacey's libertarian case in "The Secular Conscience: Why Belief Belongs in Public Life": every idea should be "fully, frequently and fearlessly discussed lest it be held as a dead dogma, not a living truth."