Wednesday, March 17, 2010
There Is No God — and He Can Prove It
Horacio Hanson Makes that Claim to S.D. Humanist Association
By MARK GABRISH CONLAN
Copyright © 2010 by Mark Gabrish Conlan for Zenger’s Newsmagazine • All rights reserved
There is no God, says 85-year-old author and ex-Roman Catholic Horacio Hanson — and he can prove it. That’s the claim he makes in his self-published book There Is No Creator: Religion Is a Fraud: What Now? — a title he readily admits is a deliberate in-your-face challenge to believers — and repeated when he spoke about it to the San Diego Humanist Association at the San Diego Public Library downtown on March 13. After noting that the worst insult in the Arabic language is, “May God deprive you of your religion,” Hanson launched into an hour-long presentation that made it clear that depriving his listeners — and the rest of humanity — of religion is precisely his intention.
“The purpose of this book is to liberate humanity from all religion,” Hanson said. “The intent is not to insult or injure an individual. I do understand that not everyone is capable of restraining strong emotion when challenged.” Hanson called atheism “the fastest-growing philosophy” and claimed that “there are about 1 billion non-religious people in the world today.” Why, then, isn’t atheism a mass movement? “Because there is no money in atheism,” Hanson said, “no chapels, no cathedrals, no priests, rabbis or mullahs, and no atheists collecting money for ‘salvation IOU’s’.”
According to his biographical note on the back cover, the roots of Hanson’s book came when, as a disillusioned ex-Catholic in his mid-20’s, he decided to read the Bible for himself without a lot of priests explaining away its nastier, more gruesome or more flatly unbelievable contents. For good measure, he read the Quran as well. His “proof” of the non-existence of God relies on taking the statements in the Bible and the Quran absolutely literally and subjecting them to the logical test called reductio ad absurdum — that is, extrapolating from them until they obviously defy both physical reality and common sense.
Most of the text of There Is No Creator is a kind of anti-spiritual nit-picking of the text of the scriptures of Judaism, Christianity and Islam, pointing out not only the passages of the Bible and Quran that unequivocally advocate slavery and genocide but the contradictions between different parts of the scriptures, as well as between the scriptures and observed reality. (One of the most grimly amusing passages is the description of how big Noah’s ark would have to have been to contain everything the Bible says it contained.) But his talk to the Humanist Association mostly avoided details of his critique and focused on the social harm done by religion and the abuses committed by believers in its name.
“Physical and economic crime and social abuses, committed in the name of religion, have been accepted and even justified as ‘freedom of religion’,” Hanson said. “During the past 12 decades, Islamic religious groups have unleashed indiscriminate attacks in many parts of the world, but the commission of crimes is not the principal reason religion must be denounced. Its basic excuse for existing, God or Allah, is false. It is not there. If this can be proven, religion is exposed as a fraud, and believers will face the embarrassment of having been suckered. Some people will resist, but a lot will be glad to be relieved of meaningless rituals and rules.”
Hanson admitted that the response of some religious people to his fly-specking the scriptures and pointing out all the logical absurdities and physical errors will be to assert that the Bible and Quran are just “parables” and are not to be read as literally true. The story he cited was the Exodus and the Hebrews’ years in the desert, during which — according to the Old Testament — they wandered for 40 years, traveled 87,650 miles (3.5 times the circumference of the earth) … and ended up in what is now Israel, only 180 miles from their starting point in Egypt. Citing “the appalling excuses given for God’s prolonging” their agony, Hanson said, “How can the brutal stupidity of Numbers have survived the Age of Reason?”
“Some religious propagandists say, ‘If it weren’t for the Bible, where would we get our morals?’” Hanson said. “Imagine what the world would be like if everyone who worked on the Sabbath were killed, as the Old Testament demands.” Hanson made it clear he doesn’t think much of “Biblical morality,” including “the institution and organization of slavery by God: God dictates that servants and their descendants must serve their masters.” He quoted Exodus 21:7 — “If a man sell his daughter to be a maidservant, she shall not go out as the menservants do” — and asked, “These are morals?”
Hanson also cited God’s — or at least his representatives on earth’s — seemingly endless need for money and the vicious punishments prescribed in the Bible for those who don’t fork it over. One would, he argued, expect the Creator of Heaven and Earth not to need continually to soak his creations for contributions — but that’s not what God says in Malachi 3:8-10: “Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings. Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house.”
According to Hanson, the contradictions that run through the Bible begin at the very beginning — between the statement that “God created Man in his own likeness” and the part a bit later that says, “Male and female created He them.” Then which is God? Male or female? “The writers are stuck with multiple images of God because there are multiple images of man,” Hanson said. “And since 98 percent of chimpanzees’ genes are identical to human genes, God would have to be in the image of chimps as well.”
Arguing that “never have so few failed so many for so long” — a description of religious leaders he admitted paraphrasing from Churchill — Hanson also confronted the problem theologians call “theodicy”: the attempt to reconcile the idea that God is good with the disasters, natural and otherwise, that repeatedly strike humanity. In his book, Hanson ridicules the Exodus story by pointing out that God supposedly intervened to spare the Israelites from being kept in perpetual servitude by the Egyptians — but he didn’t do jack in the 20th century to stop the Jews from being annihilated en masse by the Nazis.
To Hanson, “theodicy” is just one more piece of evidence that there is no such thing as God: things just happen to people, sometimes at the hands of other people, sometimes not, and the sheer randomness of accidents, both good and bad, is one of his proofs that there is no God. Ridiculing some of the typical excuses religious people make for God — that “He works in mysterious ways,” that “everything happens for a reason,” that God is “testing our faith” — he cited some hypothetical stories chilling in their happenstances as proof that there is no design, no conscious intent, ruling the fates of human beings, and therefore there is no God.
“A soldier is badly wounded in battle, but the medics are close by and apply first aid. Then a mine explodes, killing the soldier and one of the two medics carrying him in the stretcher. Or a five-year-old boy goes into a river in the jungle to get his ball, and he starts to drown. His mother jumps in to save him, and then a crocodile comes and eats both of them. Or a group of people are on a camping trip and a bear attacks one of them, a woman. The others run away at the sight of the bear, and then they hear the woman’s cries for help: ‘Oh, God! He’s tearing off my arm! I’m dying!’ No one helps, including the nonexistent ‘God.’ What could she have done to ‘deserve’ being eaten by a bear?”
Hanson argued that there are “two basic elements of every religion: a Creator and a soul. But if the soul is eternal, what’s the purpose of having a body? What’s the point of the extinction of species, including ones that became extinct before there were humans? If you’re thinking pain, anguish, injury and death for humans is ‘punishment’ for ‘original sin,’ you will be disappointed. Why are there miscarriages and stillbirths? Why the institutionalization and eternalization of poverty? Religion does not have the answers to these questions — or the billions of things that happen beyond human control. ‘God is mysterious in His ways’ is an obvious cop-out.”
Perhaps the most interesting part of Hanson’s book is part four, in which he outlines a non-religious system of morality based on German philosopher Immanuel Kant’s “categorical imperative” and argues that, once freed from the yoke of religion, that people will be able to end war and solve many other social and psychological problems, including sexual jealousy. His argument about sex is that, once “free from religion or traditional social rules,” people will no longer believe that their relationships will last “till death do us part” and won’t have unreasonable expectations that the person they love will never have or want sex with anyone else again. This will also solve the abortion issue, Hanson said, since once people cease to believe religious preachments that regard the fetus as a “person” and instead realize that plenty of abortions happen without human intervention — we merely call them “miscarriages” or “stillbirths” — there will no longer be any justification for not allowing women reproductive choice.
Hanson described his book’s section on “War” as “a detailed plan for the antithesis of aggression and the total abolition of war, which in Eisenhower’s words will happen when ‘the demand for it by the hundreds of millions… become[s] so universal and insistent that no man, no government, anywhere can resist it.’ This may seem illusory to most people, but those who think beyond the box should pay attention.” But, Hanson argued, the end of religion is a necessary precondition for the end of war, because religion not only supplies the excuses over which people and nations fight, it also provides the rationale for people to set aside their usual moral scruples against killing other people, and justifies mass murder.
Asked how he could say that religion was the foundation of all war and genocide when the 20th century produced leaders like Lenin, Stalin and Mao — avowed atheists who killed millions of their own people — Hanson described them essentially as amoral psychopaths. “Lenin and Stalin were just murderers,” he said. “They killed, but not for religious beliefs. Stalin was so self-centered he didn’t care about religion. He just wanted to kill people.”
One questioner brought Hanson back to a topic he’d briefly touched on in his lecture and discussed in more detail in his book: how do you create a morality and get people to accept limits on their behavior without invoking God and the spectre of divine retribution. “Morals have been established forever,” Hanson said. “Even primitive people had certain rules. The Code of Hammurabi, the Roman code, the Napoleonic Code and the U.S. Constitution were not based on religion at all. People — except for the handful with busted-up minds — routinely stay away from cruelty. Religion didn’t stop John Gardner [the alleged killer of Chelsea King].”
Hanson cited Kant’s “categorical imperative” as a model for a non-religious code of ethics, though he said he’d come up with a pithier way of stating it than Kant’s (“Act as if the maxim of your action were to become, through your will, a general natural law”): “What if everybody did it?” This, he said, would provide enough of a rationale for any sane person to draw back from social nuisances and crimes, from playing your music too loud for your neighbors to killing people, without having to believe in a God that would punish them if they did things that would benefit themselves but harm others. “Morals don’t require religion,” Hanson said. “You can have morals completely independent of religion.”
Ironically, one questioner compared Hanson’s conversion to atheism in his 20’s with St. Paul’s in the other direction — moving from rejecting to accepting Christianity — and asked if there was a moment of epiphany in his 20’s when he rejected the church he’d grown up in, been educated by and, until then, believed in totally. “It doesn’t depend on epiphany,” Hanson said. “There are trillions of neurons in the brain and they never stop functioning. It was gradual at the beginning, but then I took an extended boat trip for 45 days and I had some doubts. I decided to make up my mind, and ultimately concluded, ‘No way!’”