Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind

March 16, 2008

Remarks on Religion by Noam Chomsky

Filed under: culture, religion — Tags: , , , — codesmithy @ 10:48 am

Well, I’m a little more than half-way through “90 Minutes of Heaven.” With some luck, I should be able to finish it tomorrow, although I’m not sure if I’ll be able to write up a post about it by then. There is quite a bit I would like to say.

Chomsky has some remarks on religion to hold one over. I consider myself in more or less the same boat. I particularly agree with Chomsky’s sentiment: “I think irrational belief is a dangerous phenomenon, and I try to consciously avoid irrational belief.”

As a preface, like Chomsky, I do recognize that religion does do some good. The problem I have with it is how it masks the bad. I believe the only way that we are going to make it, as a species, is on a basis of liberty and recognition of individual human dignity. Humility and introspection are keys to recognizing past failures and correcting behaviors. I recognize that religious believers encompass a diverse group of people, but what I often find is a false modesty and a deliberate lack of introspection. If one feels the don’t fall into this group then fine, my criticism doesn’t apply. However, I find such an attitude permeates Piper’s book, and worse yet, he seems unaware of the issue.

For example, let’s take the issue of the seat belt. It is safe to say, if Don Piper hadn’t been wearing his seat belt, he would have died. He admits so himself on page 55 claiming that it was a miracle he was wearing one. Therefore, if it hadn’t been for Ralph Nader, I think it is safe to say Don Piper would not be alive today. The reason the Ford Escort held up to a head-on collision with a semi as well as it did was because of the crash-testing and safety devices Nader advocated. Yes, there were countless people who contributed to saving Don Piper’s life, the doctors who treated him, the engineers who designed the car, the people who built the bridge, among countless others. However, Ralph Nader raised the consciousness of automobile safety, which led to the distinct set of circumstances that helped save Piper’s life. This did not just happen. It was a result of hard work. Nader made great personal sacrifices in this regard and was actively targeted to be personally discredited. It therefore seems superficial to irrationally thank all these imaginary factors without recognizing a few that actually made a tangible difference.

However, Piper seems unable to because his intellectually lazy explanation stops with his decision to put on the seat belt that day, and he believes that was because of God. This is why religion and honest introspection appear to be so antithetical to me. If not in theory, but in practice. I want people to break through this God barrier, look deeper than the superficial explanation and try to gain a deeper understanding of the world that surrounds us. Thus, I’m not trying to attack God or religion, I’m attacking the thinking. In this sense, God is just the word used to defend stubborn ignorance. Religion is just the crutch people use to justify their disinterested and superficial understanding of the world.


  1. […] philosopher of philosophy at Tufts University called “Thank Goodness!” It had a few ideas I tried to get across in an earlier post when talking about Chomsky’s remar…. As I wrote at the time: It therefore seems superficial to irrationally thank all these imaginary […]

    Pingback by Daniel C. Dennett: Thank Goodness! « Esoteric Dissertations from a One-Track Mind — April 25, 2008 @ 8:28 am

  2. I think before Piper thanks Ford or Nader, he should thank the coherence of society, and in order to do that he must at least be grateful to a metaphysical experience (religion) for providing coherence. Ford, Nader, the end result of seatbelt, are merely actors and material object within society, none of which can help you survive if society is dysfunctional. God is societies greatest ideal, therefore sense of community and coherence, value of one’s life, comes from God. Information trust comes from one’s perspective of the world, that trust is largely dependent upon religion to evaluate how we choose to follow pieces of information (to help or save one’s own life), or, to reject (or, to remain skeptical of everything, accept a nihilistic experience). I think it is perfectly reasonable to thank a God for saving one’s life in a car accident, because without him or her, there would be no trust available for good information, and further, there would be no ultimate meaning in living or dying. One must derive meaning somehow for life and its continuance, in order to thank anything. And that certainly doesn’t come from, industry, Ford or Nader. I think the behavior of religion in society is far more marvelous than a car with a seatbelt, but that’s just me.

    Comment by Harpoon — July 22, 2008 @ 10:45 pm

  3. I disagree with many of your premises.

    Suffice it to say, that religion is a parasite. Religion has one purpose and one purpose only, the empowerment of a clergy. Humans have the capacity to care for one another apart from a belief in God, or religion. Looking at Scandinavian countries provides evidence that this is the case.

    Hence, natural histories are important. For more information see “Thank Goodness” by Daniel Dennett

    Comment by codesmithy — July 27, 2008 @ 8:16 am

  4. I would just like to start by saying that I completely agree with you about religion. It is just a crutch to people who have a false modesty and a lack of introspection. They do not look deeply at themselves and think that they are safe just because they have the title of being a member of a religion. The word religion actually means “to bind back,” and that is exactly what religious people do. They try to bind themselves back to God through being a good person, being successful, anything to make them feel worthy of being associated with God. However, Christianity is not a religion. The Christian faith is based on the acknowledgement that we are too weak and imperfect to be worthy of the strong and perfect God. It then does not fall on our shoulders to earn this worthiness, but rather, we accept God’s gift to us, which is the fact that He will do this for us.

    I also think that you don’t completely understand why Don Piper wrote this book. The miracle was not necessarily that he survived, but rather that he had the opportunity to experience Heaven, and then to be able to share that experience with other people.

    Finally, I would like to point out that, although the medical personell played an important part in his recovery, Don Piper did not have any medical attention at all after his accident. They declared him dead twice, and left him for 90 minutes in the crushed car. He was absolutely dead, regardless of how great the seat belt was. The only person that attempted to help Don was Dick Onerecker, who only prayed for him. The chances of being revived from death after 5 minutes is next to impossible, let alone after 90 minutes. He came back to life due to the divine intervention of God, not because Nadar descended from his throne and laid his hand on Don’s seat belt. He was specifically given the opportunity to give people hope and impact them through his story, which is why God let this happen to him.

    Comment by Fervent — February 26, 2009 @ 8:58 pm

  5. Hi Fervent,

    The first thing that I would like to note that it is clear that you “completely agree” with about religion, since it is obvious that you don’t.

    I feel like I should give you some sort of award for saying the Christianity is not a religion. I have often said language is among one of the first causalities of apologetics.

    I don’t know if you actually read my review of Piper’s book, but I’ll provide it anyway in case didn’t happen to see it.

    I think we are coming at Piper’s book from slightly different perspectives. I understood Piper’s view that he was given the gift of experiencing heaven and he felt compelled to share that very personal experience. I think he deluded himself and that isn’t meant to be an insult because I understand that it is easy enough to do. However, there are various inconsistencies in the story that I feel bear that out. One case was the changing definitions of unseen injuries that he was supposedly delivered from. Another one was his explicit rejection of secular help in coping with his injuries. Third was God miraculously taking away his sadness, when it becomes clear later that Piper was still suffering from some depression. Those are the few that I can think of off the top of my head, there are probably more.

    In a final analysis, determining the truth of Piper’s story rests on understanding what kinds of creatures we are. Borrowing a phrase from Gary Marcus, we are not rational beings, we are rationalizing beings. It takes effort and skepticism to be rational. Piper’s account is rationalizing, and like I said the cues that is the case are all there. I don’t necessarily expect you to accept this claim, but I mention it so you know where I am coming from.

    You make the claim that Piper was found to be without a pulse twice. I don’t dispute that. However, in the comments for the book review, you can read a comment by someone claiming to be an EMT, pointing out how hard it can be to find a pulse. This combined with the conditions of the accident (cold, Piper was mangled, the first check was most likely done by a corrections officer, the second check was probably done by an EMT knowing the results of the first check, other people involved in the accident, etc.) I think it not inconceivable that missing his pulse was merely a mistake. Regardless, I hope that you’ll admit that this mistake, which was fortunately corrected, is considerably more probable than whatever you believe God did to resurrect, or prevent Piper’s brain tissue from being severely damaged from a lack of oxygen.

    As a final note, I particularly like your claim of “Nadar[sic] descended from his throne and laid his hand on Don’s seat belt.” I never claimed anything of the sort. What I do claim is that survival in a car accident has more to do with the environment and structural properties of the car and the nature of the accident than what deity you happen to worship. Nader has been a consistent advocate for increased automobile safety, including the introduction of the seat-belt that, even Piper admits, helped save his life. I’ll take the proven tangible factors over the supernatural any day of the week (including Sunday 😉 ).

    Comment by codesmithy — February 27, 2009 @ 9:35 am

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