Thursday, September 10, 2009

The Divine Misconceptions FAQ

The Divine Misconceptions FAQ
© 2009 Aaron Solomon Adelman

What is Divine Misconceptions?
A few years ago, I became disgusted with widespread religious illiteracy in our society. One aspect of this lack of understanding is ignorance of religion; people often know little about the religion they claim to believe, much less other people’s religions. Another, arguably more dangerous aspect is that many support their religious ideas with poor reasoning or none at all; indeed, for many religion has become synonymous with unreason, through which people can believe and do whatever is right in their own eyes in complete disregard of evidence and sense. At first my disgust led me to merely list misinformation and bad logic claimed in the name of religion. However, the list has grown not merely in length, extent, and organization, but it is evolving into a series of books (working title:  Divine Misconception) on why religious misinformation and poor thinking are wrong.

The goal of the Divine Misconceptions project is to produce a series of books covering all the common religious fallacies and misinformation in contemporary society. The hope is that this project will help people to think more about what they believe and why they believe it, because the stakes are high. Religion is not a game or a mere social activity. What are at risk rank among the most important things known to humanity: truth, morality, salvation, and even life itself, with major questions of what is obligatory or unconditionally prohibited dependent on the truth of beliefs. People are regularly harmed or killed by religious irrationality of various kinds, including refusal of vaccination or blood transfusions; use of “complementary” and “alternative” medicines; slander; exploitation by cults and people with alleged divinatory powers; and oppression, violence, homicide and war with an alleged prophetic basis. Given that contemporary society is extremely tolerant and even accepting of religious illiteracy and poor reasoning, and Hillel says in Pirqe ’Avoth 2:6 “And in a place that there are no men, make efforts to be a man”, I am stepping forward to do something, anything to change the situation for the better.

What is the meaning of the project’s name?
Divine refers specifically to deities (a subject frequently misunderstood) and to religion in general.
Misconceptions refers to the bad ideas.

What is the current state of the project?
I already have what may best be described as a skeleton of a book, stretching over about 150 pages, waiting for me to fill in a lot of details. Current work on the book is comprised mostly of 1) trying to write basic, introductory material and 2) reading/watching relevant material, analyzing it, and reviewing it; some such material has already appeared on my other blog).

There is also effort being expended to decide on the correct scope, both in terms of religions covered and the works about them used; restricting the scope is vital, because religion such a large topic that no single human could hope to cover everything possibly relevant in a single lifetime. Definitely to be investigated are current major world religions, historically important religions, well-publicized new religious movements, and various ideologies and disciplines on the borders of religion. A more extensive list of topics is found below. Also needing to be taken into account are depictions of religion in popular culture; though not authoritative, they frequently reflect people’s views of religion, especially views that might not be expressed in authoritative sources.

Also in need of work is determining how to bring this project properly to fruition. Some of the topics to be covered range far beyond my own experience, and I will probably need the help of experts to wade through the sea of material available to find the information I need. Even in subjects with which I am familiar, there is a need to find people who are qualified and willing to do peer review so that mistakes are corrected before publication. There are also questions about how to go about getting the work published, in how many installments, and whether it would be possible to get funding for the work.

What topics will be covered in Divine Misconceptions?
Note: This list is unlikely to be exhaustive.

Book 1:  Very tentatively titled The Orange Catholic Bible (and, yes, that is a Dune reference):

  • Chapter 1:  “Ode to Truth” (introduction to the concept of truth and how we can learn about it)
  • Chapter 2:  “A Seductive Interest in Logic I:  Contradiction and Formal Fallacies” (bad logic)
  • Chapter 3:  “A Seductive Interest in Logic II:   Informal Fallacies” (rhetorical dirty tricks)
  • Extreme relativism
  • Epistemology (including theism versus atheism)
  • Bad terminology
  • Mediocracy
  • The nature of religion and syncretism
  • Abusing the boundaries between religions
  • Hermeneutics and scripture
  • Deities
  • Prophecy
  • Miracles
  • Science
  • Things claimed to be what really matters to the exclusion of anything else
  • Trust in one’s deity
  • Morality, judgement, commandments, and transgressions
  • Natural rights
  • The human condition
  • Categorization of beings as superior or inferior
  • Groups alleged to be involved in nefarious, religion-related plots
  • Prayer
  • Sexuality
  • Abortion and embryonic stem cell research
  • Miscellaneous

Book 2:  Very tentatively titled The Orange Catholic Bible Commentaries:

  • Commentary on the Hebrew Bible, including common misconceptions and bad interpretations
  • Commentary on the New Testament along the same lines

Further topics to examine, very tentatively going under the rubric The Azhar Book of the Dead:

  • Judaism (including the Qabbalah and Ḥasidhuth) and Pseudo-Judaism (“Reform Judaism” and its descendant ideologies)
  • Christianity and Pseudo-Christianity (including Mormonism)
  • Islam (including the Jihad and Islam’s relations with other religions) and Pseudo-Islam (including Ahmadiyya and the Nation of Islam)
  • Druze religion
  • Vaishnavism, Smartism, Shaivism, and Shaktism (“Hinduism”)
  • Sikhism
  • Jainism
  • Buddhism and Pseudo-Buddhism (including Falun Gong)
  • Confucianism
  • Taoism
  • Zoroastrianism
  • Ancient Greek and Roman religion, ancient Egyptian religion, and other ancient paganisms
  • Baha’i religion
  • Yoruba religion (including Voodoo and Santería)
  • Assorted “native” religions
  • Ceremonial/ritual magic and occultism
  • Theosophy
  • Spiritualism
  • Neopaganism (including Wicca, Discordianism, polytheistic reconstructionism, and the relationship of such ideologies to historical witchcraft and paganisms)
  • LaVeyan Satanism (including its relation to the Christian paranoid fantasy of Satanism) and other Left-Hand Path religions
  • Scientology (including Free Zone)
  • New Age religions
  • Quasi-religious atheistic ideologies
  • Obsolete hypotheses and assorted problematic claims assumed to be true

How can I help?
This project is bigger than any one person, so help is always appreciated.
Also: My current topic of writing focus is truth. If you have questions about the nature of truth, please, let me know!

Thanks in advance for any help anyone can provide.