Is religion the cause or the symptom?

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Discussion by: Zenken

As an atheist, I am constantly appalled by the religious systems that keep their followers in the dark, denying reason and facts, and creating horrors in the name of some god.  Recently a friend of mine suggested that it may be futile to fight against these systems or even to be upset by it because, "things are the way they are because of 'human nature', not because of religion. Religions are the symptom, not the cause…" If it wasn't religions it would be something else that divides us.  This seems a very bleak view of ourselves.  What do you think?

61 COMMENTS

  1. It is human nature to fear death, so religion promises to make you immortal. It is human nature to fear fire, so religion threatens you with eternal damnation in hell. It is human nature to obey your father, so religion invents a creator who is the ultimate father figure. Religion is not a by-product of human nature, it exploits human nature for it’s own benefit.

  2. Religions are the symptom, not the cause…” If it wasn’t religions it would be something else that divides us. This seems a very bleak view of ourselves. What do you think?

    Yep. Religions are symptoms and not the cause. Human nature is the cause.

  3. All kinds of things are natural but that is no reason to accept them. Disease is natural but we try to treat and cure diseases. Even if the world is never free of disease that’s not a reason to be passive and do nothing.

    • In reply to #3 by aldous:

      All kinds of things are natural but that is no reason to accept them. Disease is natural but we try to treat and cure diseases. Even if the world is never free of disease that’s not a reason to be passive and do nothing.

      Are you proposing we should try to change our own nature?

      • In reply to #4 by rizvoid:

        Are you proposing we should try to change our own nature?

        Well of course. That’s what we do as a species all the time, we try to better ourselves in all kinds of things (at least some of us). We’re pretty much in control of our own evolution and social progress, and that’s quite a unique perspective. Religions (certainly the Big Three) are no better than your regular bronze-age mythologies and philosophies. We can do better than that.

        • In reply to #11 by obzen:

          We’re pretty much in control of our own evolution and social progress, and that’s quite a unique perspective.

          I would have to disagree.
          Sure we make conscious decisions that effect our social progress and evolution, but we’re anything but in control of it. Each individual makes a tiny contribution to the overall direction and each individual is ultimately unaware as to the total effect of their decisions. Most of the time we simply have to go with the flow, with no hope of influencing others, however even on odd occasions where we all (or lots of people) band together for one goal, the outcome is never as anyone expected. Even those with the most power, national leaders like the POTUS, are only in control so far as those beneath them will allow.

          If by “in control” you simply mean we effect it, then we are no more in control than any other species.

          • In reply to #14 by Seraphor:

            I would have to disagree.

            We shape our own environment, define our morals, and for better of for worse, the general trend is self-serving. We’re still responsible as a species, and for a large part, on what our future brings. That’s more what I meant. Side effects may vary.

            My point was, social conditioning and certain upbringings can only suppress and modify certain characteristics of human nature, but they will never ever eradicate these characteristics.When I talk about changing human nature, I am talking about eradicating negative characteristics like violence, greed, anger, FEAR, and so on. Can it be done?

            Why would you? I suppose you could, genetically, but who wants that. You can breed aggression out of a species, and that generally means its demise in the light of changing environments. I’m not keen on ‘turn the other cheek’ in all circumstances. What you can do however, is redirect our aggressive and inquisitive nature, and give it another purpose.

            Almost every peaceful and law abiding nation on this planet has armed forces to defend itself from real and potential and imaginary enemies.

            Well duh, of course.

            Within a matter of a few days, being at peace can change into being at war for any nation, and would subsequently result in the killings of thousands and thousands of humans.

            Yes, and we all like good old fashion wars, and mass killings, and genocides, don’t we.

            I am not too sure about that. I think no Muslim country has officially declared war against any secular country lately.

            I wonder what would happen.

            …for whatever reasons.

            Greed and incompetence, mostly, if you are referring to Middle-East mess.

            “things are the way they are because of ‘human nature’, not because of religion. Religions are the symptom, not the cause…”

            What a cowardly reason for apathy. Religions can bring the worse in people, therefore it’s worth fighting against their retrograde influence. Just like everything else.

            So, again, we have come full circle. No matter what we do, we can’t help but be the cause of our own unhappiness, and threaten our own survival . If not through religion, then through something else. This is human nature.

            Yes it’s up to us, and only us, to better our nature. Religions are bringing us down, so they’ll have to adapt and evolve, or go the way of the Dodo. Just like human nature. We just take the fights as they come.

      • In reply to #4 by rizvoid:

        In reply to #3 by aldous:

        All kinds of things are natural but that is no reason to accept them. Disease is natural but we try to treat and cure diseases. Even if the world is never free of disease that’s not a reason to be passive and do nothing.

        Are you proposing we should try to change our own n…

        Isn’t that what we call having an upbringing?

        • In reply to #13 by Nunbeliever:

          In reply to #4 by rizvoid:

          Isn’t that what we call having an upbringing?

          I don’t think so.

          Here is what I think: I think having an upbringing doesn’t change human nature, it just molds human nature into a unique shape. Which is to say, characteristics that make up human nature can have different qualities from person to person, but every person will have these characteristics in some form, because these characteristics cannot be eradicated, or replaced by something else. These characteristics are in fact what makes a human, human.

          Violence is part of human nature, and every human, regardless of his upbringing, remains capable of violence, including the people living in jungles, and the people living in the White House. So, from the most primitive, to the most civilized, violence remain a part of human nature. Violence cannot be eradicated from human nature through upbringing. Being civilized simply here means inflicting violence in a civilized manner. Like, killing a person using guns and bullets instead of spears, daggers, and bare hands.

          Other characteristics, fear, love, anger, and on and on… they all can’t be eradicated.

          • In reply to #18 by rizvoid:

            Violence is part of human nature, and every human, regardless of his upbringing, remains capable of violence, including the people living in jungles, and the people living in the White House. So, from the most primitive, to the most civilized, violence remain a part of human nature.

            Hi Rizvoid. I think it would be to your advantage to read “Better Angels of our Nature” by Steven Pinker in order to gain perspective on the immense changes to the nature of violence over the years. The world we live in is a completely different place to that of the last century, let alone the last millennium. Perhaps we have violent, greedy and lazy tendencies at heart, but the constraints imposed by a modern society and our own understandings of acceptable behaviour have curtailed these violent impulses beyond measure.

            It would also be wise to make comparisons around the globe. There is a strong correlation between peaceful, law abiding nations and an absence of religion, not the other way around. I suggest you google a few global rankings to verify my point.

            Education is the key to all our changes for the better. What do the various religions do as a large part of their indoctrination process? They seek to limit education and keep their flock pure. Examples of this are everywhere…..look at the Amish, Islam , Christian Brethren. These are just a few.

          • In reply to #20 by Nitya:

            In reply to #18 by rizvoid:
            Hi Rizvoid. I think it would be to your advantage to read “Better Angels of our Nature” by Steven Pinker in order to gain perspective on the immense changes to the nature of violence over the years. The world we live in is a completely different place to that of the last century, let alone the last millennium. Perhaps we have violent, greedy and lazy tendencies at heart, but the constraints imposed by a modern society and our own understandings of acceptable behaviour have curtailed these violent impulses beyond measure.

            Hi: OK. Looks like a good read.

            But to answer your post, I am not denying at all that immense changes have been made over the past few hundred years, and we are very different from those who lived in the dark ages….Maybe the nature of violence has been changed, as you said, but violence is still very much there. Isn’t it?

            My point was, social conditioning and certain upbringings can only suppress and modify certain characteristics of human nature, but they will never ever eradicate these characteristics. Which makes one say that the suppression of these violent impulses through social conditioning doesn’t mean these impulses have been removed from human nature, it only means they are in hibernation, waiting only for a trigger to be activated.

            Almost every peaceful and law abiding nation on this planet has armed forces to defend itself from real and potential and imaginary enemies. Within a matter of a few days, being at peace can change into being at war for any nation, and would subsequently result in the killings of thousands and thousands of humans. We may now have certain codes of ethics on how to kills humans in wars, but killing a human being is still killing a human, and is ultimately a great form of violence.

            When I talk about changing human nature, I am talking about eradicating negative characteristics like violence, greed, anger, FEAR, and so on. Can it be done?

            It would also be wise to make comparisons around the globe. There is a strong correlation between peaceful, law abiding nations and an absence of religion, not the other way around. I suggest you google a few global rankings to verify my point.

            I am not too sure about that. I think no Muslim country has officially declared war against any secular country lately. Only secular states have been lately destroying Muslim countries … for whatever reasons.

            Education is the key to all our changes for the better. What do the various religions do as a large part of their indoctrination process? They seek to limit education and keep their flock pure. Examples of this are everywhere…..look at the Amish, Islam , Christian Brethren. These are just a few.

            I think you are completely ignoring here the downfalls of modern education, and concentrating perhaps only on the good side. I believe everything in this world, and I mean literally everything, is made up of both good and and elements, which of course, includes religions and science. Religions gave us problems, no doubt, but with those problems, they also gave us many goodies. Same with science. Science gave us many goodies, but with those goodies, came equally large problems. Science gave us cars, jet planes, but with that, it also gave grand problems like pollution and global warming. Maybe the inventors, in their excitement, only saw how these invention could serve mankind. They could never foresee how these invention could and will threatened the existence of the entire planet.

            So, again, we have come full circle. No matter what we do, we can’t help but be the cause of our own unhappiness, and threaten our own survival . If not through religion, then through something else. This is human nature.

          • In reply to #21 by rizvoid:

            Science gave us cars, jet planes, but with that, it also gave grand problems like pollution and global warming. Maybe the inventors, in their excitement, only saw how these invention could serve mankind. They could never foresee how these invention could and will threatened the existence of the entire planet.

            I notice from this and previous comments, that you’re very mindful of the human contribution to climate change and I certainly share your concern in this area. I do think it rather unfair to cast blame on our advances in education ( particularly technology) for this situation. People were simply not aware of the possible downside to their innovations. Had they been in possession of the facts regarding the use of fossil fuels at the time, they may have found non-polluting renewable sources of energy simultaneously. I’m not about to stop using all the mod cons that are part and parcel of modern life, but I would very much like these things to be powered by the wind or solar power or geothermal power. Maybe some non-polluting source as yet unknown to us would do the trick.

            In your comments pertaining to violence in our society, I thing you must be unaware of the differences in the scale of violence in previous centuries! Life in the time of the inquisition or witch burning for example, would have been terrifying. It was all terrifying…and the main reason for this was simple ignorance. People were ignorant about the causes of natural phenomena, human nature and the place of human beings in the universe. Worse than that… there was considerable effort exerted by members of the clergy in all major religions, to keep people ignorant. New ideas and discoveries were squashed by force. You can’t deny the burning, executions and ridicule that have taken place in the past and even in the present day.

            Once again I suggest you read the findings of Steven Pinker. Even a brief synopsis of the book would open your eyes, in my opinion.

          • In reply to #26 by Nitya:

            In reply to #21 by rizvoid:

            I notice from this and previous comments, that you’re very mindful of the human contribution to climate change and I certainly share your concern in this area. I do think it rather unfair to cast blame on our advances in education ( particularly technology) for this situation. People were simply not aware of the possible downside to their innovations. Had they been in possession of the facts regarding the use of fossil fuels at the time, they may have found non-polluting renewable sources of energy simultaneously.

            Maybe. But I was only discussing what has happened, and not what might have happened. The facts, not probabilities and possibilities. Because if we were to discuss all the possibilities and all the probabilities associated with all the past events in which people did something bad in the name of religions and their gods, then I guess no less than a million X million excuses could be found for whatever bad things people did in the past, and continue to do, in the name of religions and gods. Ignorance is no excuse. If it is, then apply it equally to everyone.

            In your comments pertaining to violence in our society, I thing you must be unaware of the differences in the scale of violence in previous centuries! Life in the time of the inquisition or witch burning for example, would have been terrifying. It was all terrifying…and the main reason for this was simple ignorance. People were ignorant about the causes of natural phenomena, human nature and the place of human beings in the universe. Worse than that… there was considerable effort exerted by members of the clergy in all major religions, to keep people ignorant. New ideas and discoveries were squashed by force. You can’t deny the burning, executions and ridicule that have taken place in the past and even in the present day.

            Life is still very terrifying for those who get killed by bombs. People literally burn to death when they are killed in a bomb attack, and this is precisely what is happening to people in Iraq and Afghanistan everyday. What has changed, really? In the past, they burned one or two, or three or even ten women, maybe each month, for practicing witchcraft. Today, modern civilizations burn hundreds of people together every time they drop a bomb. Only the forms of violence have changed, only the methods through which violence is inflicted have changed, nothing else has changed. If anything, where people were killed in thousands before, now, thanks to modern weaponry, millions can be killed, and are being killed. Do you know how many people have been killed in the last century alone? How many have killed in Iraq and Afghanistan so far?

            Once again I suggest you read the findings of Steven Pinker. Even a brief synopsis of the book would open your eyes, in my opinion.

            I don’t have the book. How can I read it right now?

          • The Better Angels

            In reply to #27 by rizvoid:

            In reply to #26 by Nitya:

            In reply to #21 by rizvoid:

            I notice from this and previous comments, that you’re very mindful of the human contribution to climate change and I certainly share your concern in this area. I do think it rather unfair to cast blame on our advances in education ( particular…

  4. I’d agree that the horrors of religion are not due to religions feelings per se but I would qualify that by saying that religions make it easier to claim the absolute authority by which horrors may be sanctioned. The phrase “Absolute power corrupts absolutely” rings true for a reason.

  5. Whatever the reason for religion, it has been declining steadily over a couple decades now. I think that gives us reason to believe that people can be made to see religion for what it is. Have some fun. Search YouTube for the word “atheist”, and filter by Upload Date. Find someone bashing atheists, or talking about creationism. Like I said, have some fun with it. In a respectable sort of way, of course!

  6. Every civilization and tribe on the planet has created its own religion. I pondered why this should happen? WHY? What is it about human beings that they all universally and independently create a religion. From the big 3 monotheistic variants, to the tree and river spirits of the Amazon tribes, and all points in between. What is in our psyche, our make up, our way of surviving on this planet that inserts religion?

    The explanation must be that there is something innate in our psyche that makes us susceptible to religion. The next question was; “What in the last 4 million years would be likely to produce this universal trait across all of the vastly separated tribes.” This led me to evolution. “Is there a survival advantage in believing in religion?” I have no qualifications, but I suspect there is a survival advantage to religion, and thus, this trait will be passed on and strengthened over generations.

    If you have two valleys inhabited by tribes, one of which has a charismatic shaman, a political leader that can see the value of the shaman, and the other valley consisting of independent free thinking tribes. The chief and the shaman will be able to produce a united and motivated army to invade, to kill and steal the resources of the free thinker’s valley. Life after death. Martyrdom. Gold. Slave wenches. New territory for your children. The gullible of this army will pass on their genes while the independent free thinkers will die out. (Very short version).

    But this doesn’t account for Richard Dawkins and me. I’m a free thinker. So, off for more thinking. What if, the best survival profile for any population of homo sapiens is 85% gullible followers, and 15% free thinking leadership types. A bit like left handedness to shoals of fish. If 15% of fish turn the opposite way to the rest of the shoal, it confuses the predator. (This is the speculated reason for left handedness in humans). In the people I meet, this is around the percentages of free thinkers I encounter. Bertrand Russell was on to this when he said, “Most people would rather die than think. And most people do.”

    Back to the question. I think there is an innate evolutionary reason for “Most” of the human population to be susceptible to religion. I suspect, that it doesn’t matter what the secular movement does, we will never rid ourselves of religion trying to occupy city hall. The aim of the secular movement should be to have religion practiced by consenting adults in private. There will always be religion, but it must be gently sidelined from the decision making process so we can stop them from killing us, and each other. We might even save the planet.

    • In reply to #9 by David R Allen:
      The explanation must be that there is something innate in our psyche that makes us susceptible to religion?????

      We are logical beings. We seek explanation. It was always feasible (and still is) that a superior life form created us, unfortunately people were not up to the task of making this unknown entity believable. A superior being, a creator, would naturally assume the dominant party which religious teaching and writing reaffirms.

  7. I think your friend has a point, that religion taps into aspects of our nature, rather than our nature being changed dramatically by religion.

    Where I disagree is that it is futile to ry and change it.

    On a personal level, most of us have probably had some aspect of our nature that we’ve either tried to change or control, some impulses or desires that we either supress or deny, due to our in-group/out-group hangover from tribal living. And on a societel level, laws and mores (generally) progress, the shifting moral zeitgeist etc.

    The ‘something else will divide us’ factor;

    I was a manager of a nursing home, there were problems within th ehome where different shifts and different units just weren’t getting along. Every shift on every unit thought they were the only ones pulling their weight, other shifts/units were lazy, petty, mean, controlling. Feel free to throw in any pejorative you like, there’s a fair chance it would be in there.

    I decided to run some exercises with each group, starting by simply asking them which was the best country in Europe, the answer was overwhelmingly the UK. I asked them to identify why, was it geographical or political etc, pretty soon th eanswer was people. People in other countries were lazy, petty, mean, controlling, feel free to throw in etc etc,

    I would ask which part of the UK, north or south, had the nicest friendliest people. We’re in the north, I’ll leave you to guess the answer. Basically, southerners were lazy, petty, mean controlling etc etc.

    This was then broken down by other regions within the UK, then to outlying regions of this specific town, then to within this town. I ssked them which was the best nursing home within this town.Suprise suprise, we were.

    All the sessions would end up with people laughing at themselves, realising how easy it is to fall for the idea that anyone different is worse than them/us, that we always belong to the ‘best’ group, no matter how large or small we define that group, that no matter how sophisticated we may thing ourselves, we’re still scared that the tribe in the next cave will steal our food.

    Religion didn’t cause this element in our psychological make-up, but it sure plays on it, either knowingly or unkowingly.

    I don’t think we should just lie down and accept it tho, it’s a challenge to overcome, and one that will need repeating, as the fear of the next tribe is subconscious and insidious.

    The next stage in my little program was a ‘screw up amnesty’. Getting each group to admit and discuss times when they under-performed, when they made mistakes, when they just sat on their butts knowing there was something that needed doing. Everyone, (obviously including myself) had an example. These examples were all able to be justfied when applied to ourselves, but became inexcusable once we applied them to an out-group, another shift or another unit. And again, the recognition brought an awkward laughter.

    Maybe one day, the cummulative effect of people like myslef trying to at least recognise the problem and how it effects us in even small ways, will gradually shift humanity’s fear of the next tribe, not very likely I know, but maybe you’ve heard of ‘climbing mount improbable’?

  8. It may be futile to fight against [religions] or even be upset by [them] …

    As an emotional animal I’m not sure that I can control my emotions to that extent.

    Things are the way they are because of ‘human nature’, not because of religion.

    The evidence points the other way. Countries that are largely non-religious are the most peaceful, among the richest and – polls suggest – have peoples that are more at ease.

    They lack religion, but they do not lack ’Human Nature’, however that might be defined.

    This is the kind of argument that I find the most annoying. It is based on the assumption that people cannot, and do not, change. Yet the recent holiday period gave me the chance to think about exactly that point.

    My family and long-term friends are all very different people from the ones I knew in the past. This argument is most often heard in sayings such as “A leopard cannot change its spots”. It is nothing more than a lazy assumption, and a confusion of physical and mental attributes. Even a moment of reflection will dismiss this notion with ease.

    People are giving up religion now in greater numbers than at any other time in history. What does your friend say to that? We should give up? Are they serious?

    Religions are the symptom, not the cause… “If it wasn’t religions it would be something else that divides us.”

    Just because people divide over interpretations and ideas does not give religion a free pass.

    Why is removing one area of useless conflict a bad idea? Surely removing religion from the scene will both give us more time to address the real issues and also recover time wasted on unnecessary perspectives when we talk of things we really need to discuss?

    In the free market of ideas people should be free to hold to a religion. But our problems are far too frequent, large and profound to allow it access to politics. Here we must draw a line and say that discussing the relative merits of wizards is fantasy. Harry Potter has no place in discussions on the right to die, for example. By the same token neither should people who spend inordinate amounts of time discussing the comparative value of the names YHWH / Jehovah / God / Allah etc. be given a free pass to discussions on legislating medical procedures like abortion.

    Our argument and annoyance do not stem from that fact that religions are useless – even counter-productive – for deciding moral issues. The anti-theism position is based on the evidence that religion merely adds to the sum of human misery by pretending to know about these things when it clearly knows nothing – yet has a vested interest in imposing its view on all.

    There is a big difference between saying that religion is bad because history, critical thinking and evidence show clearly that dogma is damaging and the argument over whether free markets, or regulated markets, or controlled economies are best. That difference lies in the harm that can be done by wasting time on illusions.

    This seems a very bleak view of ourselves. What do you think?

    The current situation does not seem the least bit bleak to me. Your friend’s alternative however …

    Is your friend saying that Nirvana will only be found in a society that agrees on everything? How very bland, colourless and boring that sounds. What is wrong with disagreement and discussion (is your friend a Communist?)? Even conflict, to a limited extent, seems to me to be energising, invigorating, exciting … human.

    Or is your friend saying that we cannot be trusted to rise above our human nature? It seems to me that every intelligent person tries to change themselves. They seek education or, at least, information – then act upon it. They challenge each other to competitions. They work hard. They address their own concerns about health, happiness and home. They conceive ambitions and pursue them.

    To say, against that background, that human beings will always be in conflict is no more enlightening than any other observation of simple fact.

    But, it seems to me, to say that conflict is automatically bad is to misunderstand the nature of being human – even to misunderstand the very nature of being a life-form on Planet Earth.

    Discussion must precede agreement because, without discussion, we would live at the behest of dictators. Is that a free life. Is that a life based on truth. Then how can it ever be a happy life. Note that these are rhetorical questions, they admit of no answer but the obvious.

    It may be that discussion is sometimes fruitless for some individuals, that it is often tedious and that we spend large portions of precious time on them. But, at the end of the day, it is the only sure way we have found to provide the most happiness for most of the people, most of the time.

    All that we ask is that we be allowed to drop the, very harmful, fantasies when discussing real life. Is that really so hard?

    Peace.

  9. “things are the way they are because of ‘human nature’, not because of religion. Religions are the symptom, not the cause…”

    might be true but my problem with this view (and I’ve heard it a lot too) is the default postion of human nature being the bad guy in the story. the concept of human nature being bad is maintained by religion.

    science on the other hand sees things differently. human nature has been studied and the results run contrary to how religions would have you believe.

    for example people do “good” things because they like to. evolution made you social, you get happy chemicals in your brain when you make another ape happy. on the other hand the Milgram Experiment shows that apes can treat each other appaulingly without remorse when they submit authority to someone else.

    more importantly all studies show there’s not good or bad but simply a reason why things happen.

    Religion is the dark side of human nature. it tells you your natural instinct is bad, and only by submitting to authority can you be good. The suffering of women can be ignored when your authority tells you their job is to make babies and look after men. the suffering of children can be ignored easily if authority states they must be beaten to be trained or have backstreet surgery performed on them. the suffering of whole nations can be ignored if authority tells you they follow the wrong authority.

    the worst of religion is human nature, but a dark-ages human nature borne of fear, superstition and a general poor standard of living, which has been preserved by the institutions that came out of those times.

    Human nature is no different from any animals nature in as much as it’s not good or bad, it just is. a content man will be nice, a desperate man will be nasty. without religion there’d be more contentment than desperation

  10. As has been mentioned a few times already, religion is an aspect of human nature. One unique to it. It comprises of many things that are natural to us, and on the surface it attempts to address things we have been pondering for as long as we have existed (why are we here, what is the meaning of existence, etc) and for a very long time it was the most popular and highly regarded method of finding answers, even if all the answers it found have been demonstrated to be false.

    A sense of community, a need for a just system, caring for those in need, these are things that are associated with religion, but like many things are not and have never been exclusive to it. Non religious communities did not just start happening overnight, and more importantly, merely because there is a current system in place that’s flawed that people adhere to that appeals to things we perceive as ‘natural’ doesn’t mean it’s the only thing that does.

    Any number of methods of thinking regarding belief or non belief can be seen as human nature. That’s not really an answer, it just begs more questions. And growth in my mind is one of the most important parts of human nature. Our curiosity leading to the advances we’ve made in culture, science, social and so many other areas represents the biggest hole in the human nature argument.

    Or to bring the point home, are atheists any less prone to human nature? Human nature is the cause for many things good and bad, and religion is the cause of its own number of things good and bad. Regardless of how to reason this, adopting ignorant, unprovable and dangerous ideas is harmful to human kind. It is indeed part of human nature, but the part of human nature with which it is most associated is religion.

  11. Human nature has changed, is changing, and will continue to change.

    Do you own slaves? Owning slaves was “human nature”. Do women vote in your country? That was “unnatural” not too long ago. Will saying you are an atheist get you burned at the stake? That was pretty common a few hundred years ago.

    Yes, we can educate people. Yes, we can make the world a better place.

  12. There is some psychology in it. to build our self we need the not-selr. This is the basis of recognizing people that are not myself as my environment. The next step is the diferentiation between us and them. I agree that ideology in every form is dangerous in the same way religion can be dangerous. But the special danger of religion is the aspect of superstition that is obviously part of the structure of the human mind.

    Religion is a symptom in tems of superstition and the cause of a lot of trouble on the planet. We would be better of without religion!

  13. There is some psychology in it. to build our self we need the not-selr. This is the basis of recognizing people that are not myself as my environment. The next step is the diferentiation between us and them. I agree that ideology in every form is dangerous in the same way religion can be dangerous. But the special danger of religion is the aspect of superstition that is obviously part of the structure of the human mind.

    Religion is a symptom in tems of superstition and the cause of a lot of trouble on the planet. We would be better of without religion!

  14. I think your friend is half right. Carl Sagan argued that belief in extra terrestrial abductions has filled the void left by the belief in witchcraft. If it isn’t one daft thing then it’s another. For this reason I’m inclined to view Christianity more kindly than I used to since it’s an irrational belief that rationalists have become familiar with over the centuries and to some extent have learned how to handle. It’s a case of the devil you know being better than the devil you don’t know.

    Even so, your friend is also half wrong in thinking that it is therefore pointless to oppose religion. This would be like saying the police may as well give up fighting crime because they are never going to eradicate it completely. Religion, like crime, still has to be kept to a minimum.

    Perhaps the ideal degree of religion is not zero but that of luke warm Anglicanism; just enough to inoculate the carrier against some new, rival strain of superstition that proves even more dangerous but not potent enough to make the believer want to inflict his beliefs on others.

  15. Even if this were true, and I doubt that it is, ignoring the harm of religion is the wrong response. I say get rid of this one source of conflict – religion – and then lets work on the others, including the ones that might replace it.

  16. rizvol: ‘Are you proposing we should try to change our own nature?”

    We do it quite frequently. Our genes are not destiny. There is little of our genetically-influenced behavior that cannot be modified. If belief in Gods or the supernatural is in someway tied to our genes, this does not preclude us from altering this belief and its associated behavior.

  17. David said: “…but I suspect there is a survival advantage to religion, and thus, this trait will be passed on and strengthened over generations.”

    Actually David, it is likely that religion does not have a survival or reproductive advantage. It is more likely, I think, that religion is a trait that hitched a ride along with some other trait that does have a survival advantage. Look into the idea of spandrels. I think religious belief is something like a spandrel.

    • In reply to #25 by RandyP:

      David said: “…but I suspect there is a survival advantage to religion, and thus, this trait will be passed on and strengthened over generations.”

      Actually David, it is likely that religion does not have a survival or reproductive advantage. It is more likely, I think, that religion is a trait tha…

      Made me think. And I like anything that makes me think. So if religion is a “Spandrel”, then what underlying evolutionary trait does religion piggy back on. I know we have a trait whereby we attribute cause to things we see. Like thunder is the a portent for bad things, that later become attributed to the anger of the gods. We have an ability to discern shapes hidden in the brush, predators, food etc, which later lets us see faces in the clouds.. Any ideas on what aspect of our evolution infects us with religion?

  18. “Any ideas on what aspect of our evolution infects us with religion?”

    David, this still an unsettled question among evolutionary biologists. There is a relatively new discipline called Evolutionary Religious Studies that has as one of its goals to explore this question. But no consensus has developed yet. And ERS has some problems, the largest being that too much of it appears to rely on the dubious idea of group selection. But I’ll offer some speculation here. Seems to me that religion and belief in the supernatural arose as a result of the development of two traits: patternicity and agency. Michael Shermer (who is not an evolutionary biologist) has written much about this, particularly in his most recent book The Believing Brain. I think he is possibly on to something. Seems a reasonable hypothesis that somewhere back in our early evolutionary history, as the brain developed and evolved, our ancestors developed a disposition toward detecting patterns and often times assigning agency to these patterns. The survival advantage to this could be that those who were more successful at detecting patterns, tend to survive longer and gain a reproductive advantage as a consequence.

    Imagine for example an ancient hominid ancestor moving about on the plains. This individual notices a rustling of the bushes in the distance. Now if the rustling is due to the wind and the individual investigates, no harm. But if the rustling is due to a predator and the individual investigates, he has just become lunch and lives no longer to reproduce more offspring. So those individuals who developed the behavior of assuming agency – there is a predator in the bush – and did not investigate stood a greater probability of living longer and passing on this trait to offspring. Shermer does a much better job of explaining and illustrating this than I have here. But I hope you can see where I was going. Belief in the supernatural may simply have arisen from the development of our brain’s predisposition toward assigning agency to observed phenomenon. Shermer also discusses patternicity along similar lines. I suggest googling these two concepts and/or reading Shermer’s writings on the topic. I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that is definitively the answer to your question. There is not universal agreement among scholars on this topic nor on this particular possible solution. But it certainly is plausible.

  19. I would say that this is not an either/or question. Religions are the symptoms of human nature, but usually a select few that are in the position of power and control who form and lead a community. Religion reinforces and reflects cultural “norms” and expectations. The pagans had far more “parties” and celebrations and are less about the “one” in control. Christianity has more rules about the “subservient” role of women and consideration about who is dominant and correct behavior. You will notice that newer religions take in current societal understandings in order to form a new group “mindset.” At the core seems to be the need to belong to a group or community. Many choose groups based upon interests like painting, hunting, collecting cars, etc. but nothings is more impactful like a group that creates a powerful bind connecting generations.

  20. I think we have to accept that humans need and also invent things to believe in. It probably has its roots in our concepts of who/what we are.

    For us humans with our advanced frontal lobes the very natural sense of ‘me’ as opposed to ‘not me’ has been assimilated into our mental or conceptual world.
    The ego aspect of mind is that which maintains the sense of self, the ‘I’ concept. It habitually focusses on any number of the mind’s contents forming attachments to them. It could be in the form of religion, nationality, politics, race, culture, family, football team and so on, anything that we believe constitutes who we are – our identity. We can be so attached to an identity that we would fight and kill to defend it and what we are defending is what we believe to be ‘me’, my’ self’.

    It seems that while we are unaware of the processes that form a ‘self’ we will always be divided from each other in some way – but there is always the possibility that we can learn to see this divisive process.

  21. Religion vs Atheism is a pointless argument. Religious teachings were the foundations of our society, and still are due to how long they have been apparent without question, regardless of our belief in a God. We have no proof that there isn’t a superior being/ life form that created the universe, but the flawed and frankly ridiculous teachings of religious texts (the immaculate conception for instance) has made it irrational to think so. The simple truth of it is this, we do not know, so why pose the argument in the first place? And realistically how much of an effect does a derived god who obviously doesn’t intervene in anything even have on our lives. We are the most intelligent life form that we know exists in our universe, possibly the only one with the capacity to think yet and we are fixated on unanswerable questions, arguing illogical between ourselves, leaving us stagnating in a mislead society, full of illogical hatred, mistrust and anger. 

    • In reply to #35 by jbrailsford92:

      Religion vs Atheism is a pointless argument. Religious teachings were the foundations of our society, and still are due to how long they have been apparent without question, regardless of our belief in a God.

      I don’t agree that religion alone is the foundation of modern societies, in fact it was one of the truly revolutionary things about the United States that the foundation was secular rather than any one religion. I also don’t agree that no one has questioned religion in the past. At least as far back as the enlightenment and people like David Hume and then later people like Jefferson and Paine and many others have been questioning religion for quite some time.

      However, even if what you said were true, the idea that we shouldn’t question a concept because no one has questioned it in the past would be a good way to stop human progress.

      The simple truth of it is this, we do not know, so why pose the argument in the first place?

      It seems to me that when we don’t know something that is a very good reason to pose arguments about what might be true.

      And realistically how much of an effect does a derived god who obviously doesn’t intervene in anything even have on our lives.

      For some of us (e.g., me) knowledge is something worth pursuing for it’s own sake. But in fact the concept of God and religion has a very major effect on our lives. Earlier you claimed that “Religious teachings were the foundations of our society”. If you believe that then how in the world can you then turn around and say what’s the point of studying something that is the foundation of our society? If it’s the foundation for our society doesn’t it make sense for us to want to analyze it in depth and find ways of giving society a more rational and coherent foundation?

      I don’t think you are correct that religion is the foundation for most modern societies but I do agree that it has had a significant impact (mostly negative) on world culture, ethics, and society and I think we can understand humanity better by understanding the scientific explanations for why humanity created religion and why so many people still seem to need it.

  22. Perhaps it willl always be something as your friend suggests. The futility of the effort has never been a deterant for me. I refuse to set foot in a Walmart, a stance my husband often reminds is completely fruitless.

    I don’t care so much about being divided. It’s progress that there are enough people professing non belief to even constitute a division. There was a time when no one dared suggest that school is not the place for a prayer. I’m more than happy to fight about it.

    I am constantly appalled by the religious systems that keep their followers in the dark, denying reason and facts

    With the proliferation of the internet, anyone still in the dark concerning the atrocities caused by religion has chosen to stay in the dark. I don’t even blame religious leaders for pushing their product. It’s up to the consumer to educate themselves.

    At any rate to get around to your question, we will always be divided on something this is true. But think about it: America was founded in part supposedly to escape religious persicution. Apparently in England they were of of one mind on religion. But the people preferred the freedom to be divided.

  23. Religions, like conspiracy theories, are the end result of peoples ignorance, fear/paranoia and disempowerment. They are attempts to gain control over, or over the “cause” of, those problems. Your friend is probably correct that religion is a symptom, but religion has also become a cause; it does after all get passed on from one generation to the next, and all the ignorance and fears that went into making religion gets carried with it. However, I think more and more are stepping away from religion or seeking to change religion for the better – and that’s because people have a far greater understanding of the world and others than what they once did. So the ignorance and fears perpetuated through religion are also steadily losing their influence.

    It’s definitely not futile fighting against or seeking to change these systems; if that was the case, blacks, women, gays and even atheists would have never gained rights.

  24. I think that religion is a crutch used to justify the horrors that anyone chooses to commit. We will have horrible, despicable people, evolution by natural selection has assured this. The strongest and fittest typically possess a cruel innate trait, even in the animal kingdom we can see evidence of the strongest bullying the weakest. I am in no way condoning such behavior I am just mentioning that I believe that even if religion ever becomes abolished (as it should be) then atrocities will still be committed. Religion is not the cause, it is just the excuse evil men use to let themselves sleep at night.

    I am a fairly new atheist, I still exist within the atheist “closet” but unlike my previous christian belief where I was content to simply sit still and show absolutely no desire to spread my beliefs, as an atheist I cannot sit still. The rage at what religion has done not just to mankind but to myself personally is starting to boil over. I physically twitch when my creationist friends scoff at the idea that children past the age of 8 still believe in Santa Claus, knowing full well that they are fully grown and educated adults who still believe in an all powerful being who is reprehensible.

    Back to the topic at hand, take anything in recorded history that was done in the name of religion, remove religion from the equation and see if that act is morally correct. Could you see any political leader rallying the people behind these horrendous acts without using God as an excuse? Would the Crusades have ever taken place if religion never existed? Would we fight over the near worthless scarred hunk of rock that is not just the holy site of Christianity but also Islam?

  25. In reply to post #9 David R Allen,

    In groups of animals we see a ranking system based on the strongest physical male leading the group (especially in primates). The group exist because it enhances the survival rates of individials within the group and the dominant male gets the pick of the best (genetically) females and food.

    Maybe as our brains evolved we moved away from just physical dominance being the only factor involved in deciding the group leader to physical as well as mental abilities (As the clever ape could kill the stronger ape with a tool etc.)

    So early group leaders with no modern laws or directives in place to govern the group from an intelligence point of view decided to unknowingly mimic modern social constructs with a easy to comprehend belief in a deity, a deity which allowed him to hold some sway / power over the rest of the group members, a belief in a deity that complimented his own mental skillsets / attributes whilst undermining others.

    As we have mentally evolved to present day, the same still applies to the group leaders or groups of people who wish to advertise their belief in a diety for their own agendas especailly if it is to keep the rest of the group / country members docile and obedient.

  26. I think that there will be allways something that divides us. It is the human nature because we tend to get along in groups and masses of other people to share our views.
    The most simple example i can give is this website.
    I think it serves a similar cause to each and everyone of us.
    We can share our view of the world and learn from each other.
    We divide our selfs from Religios groups.
    At the end, it is the opposite of “bleak”, because it’s essential for our survivel as a spieces.

  27. I have an idea.
    First of all, I think that the relligion is the symptom. So what is this cause we search? Isn’t it death?
    I believe it is the fear of unknown!
    The humane is programmed to fear something that it can’t understand. It may harm him. The most known example is the death.
    Progress is caused by the evolution(either the one of the body or the one of culture). The curiosity that overcomes fear is a benefit of the minority.
    So how do we over come fear?
    With reconsiliation with fear. And that is something we can succeede. Do you remember how dowkins closes his first book “the shelfish gene”. He believes in the power of self-consciousness and the it can rebell agaist the genes and the memes. i believe it two. we can ovrcomes the fear, and push a step ahead with that the hyman evolution. The aspect of who to do that is what i hope you will propose.

    • The shellfish gene!!!! Priceless. I know it is bad form to point out misspellings, but if I were going to write a parody of the Selfish gene, i think this would be the strongest candidate for a title.

      Sorry for being pedantic and i sincerely hope I am not coming off as speaking down to someone (i really am not) I am just celebrating something that made me smile….. but, you know how some errors in biology actually lead to improvements in the gene pool??? I think this one is an example of evolution!!!

      In reply to #45 by litlle philosopher:

      I have an idea.
      First of all, I think that the relligion is the symptom. So what is this cause we search? Isn’t it death?
      I believe it is the fear of unknown!
      The humane is programmed to fear something that it can’t understand. It may harm him. The most known example is the death.
      Progress is caused…

  28. To the bleak view of ourselves: The interesting thing about us humans is hat we can change ourselves willingly. On the long run that means that we change structures in our brains because we change our thinking and our behaviour. And we can override superstition.

  29. To the bleak view of ourselves: The interesting thing about us humans is hat we can change ourselves willingly. On the long run that means that we change structures in our brains because we change our thinking and our behaviour. And we can override superstition.

  30. I know, and that’s why i was hesitant to even comment and left the rest of it alone. I admire anyone who can speak two or more languages as I can barely master one. I apologize for laughing, but i must be in a vacuum (I really never heard it before) and it struck me as funny.

    The other day i criticized someone for having 8 negatives in a sentence. That was not an unfair criticism in my mind, because, i was NOT crapping on them for bad english, but rather bad THOUGHT processes.

    I hope that this one appears different to the regulars here, because i really have no truck with the content of the post, rather the phrase Shellfish gene was just funny to me. No offense meant.

    In reply to #48 by bluebird:

    In reply to #47 by crookedshoes:

    “shellfish gene”

    That clever turn of phrase has been around a while, actually. Its next of kin is The Cod Delusion.

    I don’t think it was a misspelling – rather, English may not be his / her first language. If so, they might not comprehend the nuances of your po…

  31. Well, according to Marx, religion is the symptom, and social conflict is the cause. I agree with that, which is one reason that I do not think very highly of the demonization of religion (as practiced, for example, by Christopher HItchens). It is equally wrong to say that religion arises from so-called “human nature.” Like everything else in society, religion arises from definite material and historical conditions.

    • In reply to #50 by Markovich:

      Well, according to Marx, religion is the symptom, and social conflict is the cause. I agree with that, which is one reason that I do not think very highly of the demonization of religion (as practiced, for example, by Christopher HItchens). It is equally wrong to say that religion arises from so-c…

      Well, it’s refreshing to see someone else who just doesn’t want to scream about all the smelly Muslims and how the world will be a paradise once we get rid of them and the other theists. I agree with you to some extent but I think Marx was also clearly wrong.

      A simple fact that most people who comment here seem incapable of grasping is that human behavior is complicated. Any analysis that tries to put the blame for all the world’s problems on any one thing, whether that thing is religion or “material and historical conditions” is overly simplistic. To think that 9/11 for example was only caused by the evils of religion is just ridiculous. You only have to look at what Bin Laden himself said about the reasons he and his maniacs do what they do and it’s not about getting into heaven to have sex with virgins it’s in retaliation for their perceived crimes of the West, especially the US.

      But to go to the other extreme as Marx did and you seem to want to, to say that religion had nothing to do with 9/11 and to say that religion is completely just a reflection of “material and historical conditions.” is also far too simplistic.

      To begin with do you see dolphins or orangutans forming religions? No and the reason is because humans are predisposed to do those things, at least to some extent and dolphins aren’t. At least some of the explanation, if we are trying to be scientific about it, has to be based on the predispositions we get as humans for cognition and emotions from our hunter gatherer past.

      • In reply to #51 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #50 by Markovich:

        Well, according to Marx, religion is the symptom, and social conflict is the cause. I agree with that, which is one reason that I do not think very highly of the demonization of religion (as practiced, for example, by Christopher HItchens). It is equally wrong to say…

        Don’t put words in my mouth. People use religion to justify their actions. The world is complicated. But religion itself is expained my more fundamental conflicts. You should read Marx, a very deep thinker who said very much, before you so glibliy declare him to be wrong.

        • In reply to #52 by Markovich:

          In reply to #51 by Red Dog:
          You should read Marx, a very deep thinker who said very much, before you so glibliy declare him to be wrong.

          I have read him. Several books actually. My favorite was a little known book he wrote with Engels on the American civil war. Can’t say I remember that much but I recall it was a fascinating alternative view.

          I think Marx was a lot like Freud, both men were brilliant and represented real progress in intellectual history but at the same time both of them were ultimately dead ends, theories that asked interesting questions but got answers that were so poorly constructed they barely qualified as wrong.

          And I think in both cases there was a similar problem at the root of what was wrong with both of them, they didn’t really understand the scientific method. They both thought they did but they confused Germanic love for big words and convoluted sentences with actual useful theorizing.

          Speaking of actual science that applies to human behavior and society I was reading some today going through the papers of Robert Trivers and to my surprise came across his opinion of Marx:

          “I remember reading my first and only piece by Karl Marx…the first half was a searing indictment of the self deception and lies of bourgeois society, while the second was a brand new set of self deceptions regarding the future under communist leadership. This was progress?” Natural Selection and Social Theory: Selected papers of Robert Trivers p. 256

          As usual I agree with Trivers.

  32. Well Red Dog, we will have to agree to disagree on the relative merits of Marx and that towering figure of social theory, Trivers.

    Marx and Engels didn’t write a book on the American Civil War, by the way. They wrote some newspaper commentary on that subject.

    • In reply to #54 by Markovich:

      Well Red Dog, we will have to agree to disagree on the relative merits of Marx and that towering figure of social theory, Trivers.

      Marx and Engels didn’t write a book on the American Civil War, by the way. They wrote some newspaper commentary on that subject.

      Amazon: The Civil War in the United States by Karl Marx and Frederic Engels

      I’m not sure if you are being sarcastic or not when you say “that towering figure of social theory, Trivers” but I absolutely think he is such a figure. I’ve always been interested in human ethics and always been frustrated by the endless vague blather that constitutes most philosophy and psychology on the subject. I learned more about the actual science behind morality by understanding reciprocal altruism than all the philosphy classes I had on the subject combined. And reading some of Trivers’ papers lately I’m awed by the intellect of the guy and the way he can cut through BS on topics that are mostly mired in it.

    • In reply to #54 by Markovich:

      Well Red Dog, we will have to agree to disagree on the relative merits of Marx and that towering figure of social theory, Trivers

      Here is just a bit more from the towering figure of social theory Robert Trivers. I was wondering why did I jump to talking about Freud when you mentioned Marx and then I remembered Freud was also on my mind because of another thing by Trivers I read recently and that I think this could very easily apply to Marx as well. He sets it up by talking about how someone at Harvard told him to read Freud because Freud was relevant to a problem Trivers wanted to study, Trivers reaction to reading Freud’s Interpretation of Dreams was:

      “I was hoping of course for a book that laid out the evidence… Instead, I was seeing what looked like argumentation by assertion — that is a series of assertions were made without any supporting logic or evidence whatsoever (except for an occasional classical alusion or metaphor…) and an edifice of argumentation was thereby created. I kept searching for the missing references…”

      That is pretty much the way I remember feeling after reading Marx as well.

      • In reply to #56 by Red Dog:

        In reply to #54 by Markovich:

        Well Red Dog, we will have to agree to disagree on the relative merits of Marx and that towering figure of social theory, Trivers

        Here is just a bit more from the towering figure of social theory Robert Trivers. I was wondering why did I jump to talking about Freud wh…

        I don’t think that this is the place to get into a debate about Marx and his theory of history. But I think that very few people who have studied it an any length or with any degree of seriousness have reached the very glib conclusion that you have or that Trivers has. There are many serious and learned people who disagree with it, but there are very few serious and learned people who dismiss it so glibly. For this reason I must say that I doubt that your acquaintance with Marx and his interpreters is great enough to support the simple conclusion you have reached, or is very great at all, actually.

        In that vein and contrary to your repeated assertions, it remains the case that Marx and Engles never wrote a book on the American Civil War. They wrote some commentaries that appeared in German newspapers like Die Presse. These commentaries are by no means “little known,” either.

        As to Trivers, whatever the merits of his thinking, it has not given rise to a vast school of economic, social and historical criticism. It certainly has not served as the guiding basis of any major social upheavals or for that matter, any program of political action. That of Marx, for better or worse, has done so.

  33. As soon as people began to co operate in large numbers to organise agriculture and built settlements …that is when the first religions or temple priests took control as overlords of grand civic projects and they also took the position of slave masters to the farm labourers – they controlled trade and travel, language translations and calendar festivals rituals to be observed etc etc….the poor people just nodded and followed along – jumping through hoops to get some food…..the first cultures worshipped many gods at one time…like Egypt and Hindu India, later Buddhism was a philosophy and a way of life – but doesn’t worship any god….. then Judaism, Zoroastrianism, Confusionism and many more …before we even got to Christians who had been Jews that Romans hijacked…to make Christianity a Roman thing – which it was not…..the Romans were corrupt power controllers just like every other religion’s leaders
    Corruption can be in many forms not just religions…..fascism, communism, bad democracy….but Religion is way up there with the biggest cause…..god is just a conceptual tool that Religions use to stop people challenging them….or hoping to disprove their claims….but religion didnt bank on science having all the correct answers…prooving that they are absolute faking lying corrupters….

    self righteousness of leaders and gullability of the followers is a symptom of religion which is a giant cause for corruption and oppression.

  34. What do I think

    I think we forget that we all evolved over billions of years from two microscopic organisms eventually to man, and from caveman to intelligent man with no set agenda.

    Is man responsible for religions ? Or should we just blame evolution since we did not have any choice in the way things turn out. We are slowly but steadily evolving into an amazing future.. So let’s wait and see what evolution does..

  35. If you look across the human population you would see a spectrum of intellect from those who have to be cared for their whole lives to those have normal intelligence and to those who can out think most people.

    All human characteristics form a spectrum in the population, emotional health, morals, values, work ethic, etc.

    Some people need a father figure even as adults, they look to God. Others boldly go where others would not tread. They are independent. And then there are those in the middle – like me. We understand how the world was formed, we believe evolution, etc. we like science and scientific endeavor. But we also have a spiritual nature; we have morals, and values. (OK – you have morals and values too.)

    Some might call this characteristic altruism. But I would define spiritual as the desire or even need to contact another higher source of being and to aspire to become more than we are. Who was it who said that if God did not exist, we would have to invent him? Many humans have this need, this awareness of something greater than our selves. A mystery that we are always reaching for, for early man, religion was this search.

    The mystery schools where knowledge was taught to only a few initiates, secret knowledge, slowly evolved into SCIENCE. Ah… you atheists – religion gave you birth. But many men seek power rather knowledge. They took over the mantle of religion and sought to control the minds of all people, especially you scientists who were upsetting their apple cart of power.

    True religion’s purpose is to teach humans moral behavior. But too many humans do not have the power of reasonable thought. They do not think for themselves. They just accept what is told them. They are children all the way into adulthood. So they accept things like the Earth being 6000 years old, etc. But at the same time they also are taught to help others, to not kill, to not rob, etc. So why should you be angry with these spiritual children being helped to grow? Why would you deny them a vehicle of growth?

    A neighbor goes to church. He is retired. He and the other retired men help the older people of the church. They paint their houses, cut their yards, repair appliances, take they grocery shopping. These people are too old to reproduce any more. Is their behavior altruism? Or are they just exhibiting a higher spiritual nature?

    Perhaps ethnologists should study man’s spiritual nature.

    “And sacred order has always been won
    From chaos by some burning faithful one
    Whose human bones have ached as with fever
    To bring you to the higher triumphant places.”

    Mary Sarton

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