In recent posts I have used recent news stories to suggest that certain religious rules were adopted because of their usefulness in getting the members of the religion to sacrifice their own interests for the sake of the church (or, more specifically, the church leaders).
I started with the proposition that no person has ever received their morality from God but, instead, they assign their own moral sentiments too God. I then asked what might have motivated various religious groups to adopt such horrendous rules as to call for the whipping of a 75 year old woman for "mingling" with men, or condemning those who helped a 9 year old rape victim abort the twins she was carrying.
The motivation behind the rules that lead to these decisions, I argued, was due to their usefulness in getting people to sacrifice their own interests for the same of the religious leaders that adopted the rules. In the former case, the rules help to keep women subjugated to men. In the latter case, the absolute prohibition on abortion is useful in breeding new church members to continue to support the church itself.
These rules cannot stand on their own merit. Assigning them to God is one way to protect the rules without the need to argue for their defense. In addition to this, there are two other rhetorical tricks commonly used to defend these types of indefensible church rules.
One rhetorical trick is to claim that anybody who challenges the rules should be condemned (and should be ashamed of themselves) because they are robbing people of a "sense of purpose and meaning." By claiming that the church rules serve "a higher purpose" (and not just the interests of the church), people become convinced that their lives cannot have meaning and purpose unless they are sacrificing their own interests for the same of the church leaders.
They are, of course, lead to believe that they are sacrificing their own interests for the sake of a God. However, the only real world entity that actually benefits from their sacrifice is the church leaders, not some God. People tend to feel a great deal of anguish at the discovery that what they thought was a sacrifice for a higher purpose was actually a case of being exploited by others. It is in the interest of those who benefit from this exploitation to blame this anguish on those who expose it – rather than on those who engage in it.
The other rhetorical trick is to bundle the rules whereby church members sacrifice their own interests for the sake of the church leaders in with another set of rules that are socially beneficial – rules against wonton violence, theft, dishonesty, and the like. The absurd claim is then made that the abandonment of rules that benefit the church leaders at the expense of others can only be accomplished by sacrificing these socially beneficial rules as well.
This ignores the fact that people have reason to preserve and protect socially beneficial rules without believing in God since the still have reason to harvest the benefits of being members of a peaceful society.
This is a rhetorical trick equivalent to that of taking hostages – of holding a gun to a child's head and saying, "If you do anything to try to harm me (the rules that call for individual sacrifice to benefit the church leaders), you harm the child (socially beneficial rules that people have reason to adopt regardless of their willingness to sacrifice for the church)."
These are the two rhetorical tricks that we see over and over again whenever those who do not support individual sacrifice for the benefit of church leaders challenge those rules. The atheists are called militant and cruel for their eagerness to deprive people of meaning and purpose – when, in fact, what the atheist is trying to accomplish is to get people to realize that they are being exploited. And, the atheist is accused of threatening the downfall of civilization because the abandonment of rules that benefit the church implies the abandonment of rules that provide general social benefits.
Yet, these rhetorical tricks, like the rules they are used to protect, have no merit. They are fictions promulgated for their usefulness to those who benefit from the (religious) exploitation of others, and nothing more.