End Times Hysteria Watch: Lyn Benedetto Allegedly Tried to Kill Her Daughters to Save Them from The Tribulation

The Antelope Valley Press, a northern Los Angeles County newspaper, had the following disturbing headline on Sunday, March 20, 2011:

Mom feared ‘The Tribulation,’ cops say: Cut daughters’ throats, then her own.

And the opening paragraph to the story was this:

A Palmdale mother has been arrested on suspicion of attempting to kill her daughters because she believed “The Tribulation”—a worldwide period of wars, epidemics and natural disasters before Jesus returns to earth—was about to occur and she didn’t want the girls to suffer through it, sheriff’s officials said.

The accused woman is Lyn Benedetto, 47, the wife of a dentist, and she was booked on $1 million dollars bail. At least one Los Angeles area television station also picked up the story (see here).

Lyn Benedetto, before taking up residence in jail while awaiting trial, lived in an apparently nice, gated community. And a reporter at the Antelope Valley Press got a female neighbor to dish the following information about her:

[She] was always pleasant and seemed involved with her daughters, and recently attended a meeting with the elder girl at Quartz Hill High School, which the girl was expected to attend next year.

Here’s some more from the Antelope Valley Press:

The neighbor said she hadn’t heard Benedetto express any fears about radiation from Japan’s stricken nuclear reactors or impending disaster or any religious sentiments.

“Nobody saw this coming,” she said.

So, as usual, neighbors rarely ever really know their neighbors—but are delighted to talk to the press about them when they end up in the public eye.

And it’s not hard to guess what this murder-suicide attempt augurs for the advent of December 21, 2012: misery to families mourning the loss of loved ones caught in 2012 hysteria.  In other words, there will be some people who will get themselves so worked up over this date—much as Lyn Benedetto apparently did over The Tribulation—that they will actually commit suicide in anticipation. Frightened by the end of the world, they’ll think it sensible to exit early, perhaps taking children with them. Of course, there will be the usual media hand wringing, and before the date arrives psychological professionals will go on television to counsel calm. But the following item at National Geographic’s website provides a hint of what’s really coming in 2012:

NASA’s Ask an Astrobiologist Web site . . . has received thousands of questions regarding the 2012 doomsday predictions—some of them disturbing, according to David Morrison, a senior scientist with the NASA Astrobiology Institute. “A lot of [the submitters] are people who are genuinely frightened,” said Morrison, who thinks movie marketers, authors, and others out to make a buck are feeding some of the fears. “I’ve had two teenagers who were considering killing themselves, because they didn’t want to be around when the world ends,” he said. “Two women in the last two weeks said they were contemplating killing their children and themselves so they wouldn’t have to suffer through the end of the world.”

This really is a moral issue. It’s not a harmless cultural fad coming our way. There is literally a 2012 prophecy industry that has built up around the bogus December 21 “end of the world” date, and at least some people are likely to die because of the concerted circulation of this stupidity. Like The Tribulation meme that got hold of Lyn Benedetto’s mind, the 2012 meme is a rebuke to our educational system and the failure of the schools to teach even the most elementary critical thinking skills to students. And televangelists, movie producers, booksellers, and New Age charlatans making money trucking in 2012 irrationality will have blood on their hands. Not that they’ll give a shit, but the rest of us should.

About Santi Tafarella

I teach writing and literature at Antelope Valley College in California.
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25 Responses to End Times Hysteria Watch: Lyn Benedetto Allegedly Tried to Kill Her Daughters to Save Them from The Tribulation

  1. yvonne kors hermans says:

    In this article is focussed on 2012, and the predictions around that year. Lynns ficcation with the Tribulation to come have lesser to do with that. Lynn was just like me, and thousands of others a member of the Worldwide Church of God, a religious sect, founded by Herbert W. Armstrong. After years of brainwash, from her early youth, being frightened by the coming Tribulation, the church fell apart and left many members in the deep end. I corresponded with Lynn on Facebook and she let me know that she experienced anxieties coming in her midlife: ofcourse, the years in life we become our real selves… But how do you know who you are, if you are always told who to be…. I feel deep sorrow for Lynn and her actions, deeply thankfull her children are saved because the real Lynn would NEVER want this to happen.

    • LWR says:

      I agree with you, Yvonne. Lyn graduated from college the year I started there. We’re the same age, and I, too, have struggled with the “brainwashing” of all those years. And, yes, it does seem to get more difficult in middle age when all the unresolved stuff seems to come out with the hormones. Or, you’re finally discovering who you are and you have all the conflicting lies from the past to sort through. I really feel for Lyn and her family. Our prayers are with them.

  2. CLA says:

    I too, have known Lyn and her family for about 20 years…..from when we were all members of the Worldwide Church of God (or “WCG,” now known as “Grace Communion International”) and responded in fear to the “gloom & doom” bible prophecies and legalistic practices of sabbath-keeping and holy day worship. I always thought of Lyn as a sweet and kind person, who took good care of her family and was always willing to help others however she could. I don’t think anyone saw this coming…..if only she had talked to someone close to her, before trying to carry out her murder-suicide attempt.

    On the other hand, I think it is sometimes the nature of religious people who live in fear, and who do not really know who they are, to do irrational and unspeakable things. I could name a long list of other individuals from old-WCG — people you’d least suspect — who actually did commit suicide, all without any warning signs (or maybe we just missed them….).

    LWR, you really hit the nail on the head when you said, “Or, you’re finally discovering who you are and you have all the conflicting lies from the past to sort through.” Wow! That was MY situation about 15 years ago, when the WCG/CGI organization declared themselves a cult and began changing their doctrines to that of “mainstream Christianity.” Back then, while sorting through the lies, I went through a long, dark period of time where I felt lost and alone and like someone had played a cruel, sick joke on me and that I had wasted my entire life on that stupid religion. I went through periods of deep depression which included suicidal thoughts and atheism/agnosticism. But, as the scripture & the saying goes, “Seek the truth and the truth will set you free.” And so, I began reading books & articles about how to know the difference between healthy spirituality and toxic faith — and it was the book “When God Becomes a Drug” (by Father Leo Booth) that really opened my eyes, and set me on a path of spiritual freedom that I had never known before. “Toxic Faith” is also a good book, as well as “Kingdom of the Cults.” I have found though, that a lot of people from old WCG (who are now in the new WCG/CGI….) prefer to shy away from such “in your face” type books because they continue to live in denial about their precious denomination ever having been a cult in the first place.

    Anyway, I could go on and on about the topic of fear-based religion & toxic faith, but I will close by saying that I too am keeping the Benedetto family in my thoughts & prayers.

    • Paul says:

      Quoting CLA : “I went through periods of deep depression which included suicidal thoughts and atheism/agnosticism.”

      CLA, I am really happy for you that you managed to get yourself to a point where you are a bit more critical of the cults you connect yourself with (all religions are cults).

      However, I find it disturbing that you list “atheism” or “agnosticism” alongside “suicidal thoughts” as being the kind of things you considered in your periods of deep depression. You seem to equate the idea of “atheist” as something as dark and wrong as “suicide”.

      For one thing, I want to point out to you that there is no such thing as “Atheism”. There is no Atheist Doctrine and no list of “rules” to follow. There are no Atheist ideas to adhere to. To be Atheist is to be simply “without religious belief”. That is all.

      “Atheism” does not exist. It isn’t a religious doctrine. It is simply the absence of “belief in god(s)”. It isn’t dark, and it isn’t scary. It’s also not depressing in the slightest. I have no idea why you consider it to be so.

      I can only imagine you have been so deeply involved with various cults throughout your life, that you honestly cannot comprehend what it is to live without religion in your life.

      Let me give you an insight into that…

      I am an Atheist person. I am independent. I am confident. I am happy. I live my life in a good way every day. I work hard. I love my family. I celebrate with them. I view the Universe and our Planet with great love and wonder. I love finding out things about the world we are living in, and it’s place in the Universe.

      I am skeptical of anything which does not have evidence to support itself. Because no religion on this planet has *any* evidence to support *any* of their claims, I am an Atheist person.

      The existence of god(s) is something that cannot be proven or unproven… The existence of god(s) is non-falsifiable… As such, the existence of god(s) is a bad premise on which to form an argument. There is *no way* anyone on this planet can tell you anything about god(s).

      I am happy for people to believe whatever fairy-tales they want to inside their own heads, where it can’t do anyone any harm. But when people start putting those fantasies to work in the real world, that can become very dangerous very quickly. Lyn Benedetto’s case is an extreme example of this.

      Critical thinking is the greatest gift you can give your children. It’s also the greatest gift you can give yourself. With critical thinking, a person can look at a given argument such as “god exists, and therefore …. blah blah blah”, and recognise that the premise of that argument is invalid.

      To be an Atheist simply means you are capable of critical thought. To recognise an invalid argument when you see it.

      As an Atheist person, I live a happy and fulfilled life… My love of life is made deeper by my understanding of *reality*. I have no need of any fantasy to give meaning to my life… I have plenty of meaning in my life without scriptures, doctrines, dogma and lies.

      Please ask yourself why you equate “Suicide” with the idea of being “Atheist”. I have to tell you that I find that deeply offensive.

      • @Paul – Excellent post!

      • Mike says:

        Thank you Paul… that was a eloquent and very well organized glimpse into what it is like to live an un-brainwashed life. The power of suggestion and disregard to critical thought in this world has caused too many attrocities. Rwandan’s, Nazi’s and others have committed genocide in the name of “the truth someone else feeds you”. People tend to be unable to draw a line between those things that they want to believe and the things worthy of belief through scrutiny.

        I have two otherwise intelligent uncles that believed Harold Camping’s predictions about May 21st even after his previous failed “absolutely true” predictions. They lived the last few months in fear as shells of their former selves. When you raise children without religion and teach them to think for themselves, it is highly unlikely that their adult selves will “find god”. I’m not sure links are permitted here, but I believe you would enjoy this tongue in cheek video entitled “after the rapture” by ThinkingAtheist on youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f9KlMWzKj4s

        Please have a couple hundred children and raise them properly so eventually this world can finally treat these fairy tales as such. Enjoy this wonderful life that your parents have brought you into and this world that past generations have entrusted in your hands. May peace be with you.

        “With or without religion, you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion. “

      • Fanny says:

        @ Paul,

        That was awesome! My mother is Catholic and my father is an Atheist. They taught me both of their views and allowed me to think for myself. I am so greatful they allowed me to do that as it gave me the chance to question “god” and decide for myself.

        I will say however, I envy people who have the ability to blindly believe in something that cannot be proven. I think it would be nice to believe in something.

        Anyway, great post! Very well thought out.

      • Critical Thnkr says:

        Paul: in all honesty, I can understand the equating of suicide with atheism problem / issue. But then you go into this rhetoric rant claiming to be a critical thinker and atheism holding all the cards to critical thinking. Really? In all honesty have you not jumped from one side of Kool-Aid drinking to the other? Statements like, “no religion on this planet has *any* evidence to support *any* of their claims,” You can’t be serious. Tell us some more about not living in a fairy land. Make me feel wonderful and atheism is the answer to life because it only has the evidence.

        Dude, no doubt atheism is rising, but if your claims were true there would be more than 5% of the US population claiming to be atheist (Washington Post 2012). There are numerous, majorly recognized scientists in universities around the world that are devout Christians. If atheism were the fairy tale you claimed it was, vast amounts of people would jump ship in a second.

        Critical thinking is just a search for the truth. When a religious leader like Jesus makes a statement that, “I am the way, the TRUTH and the life” doesn’t that statement challenge people to check him out? I mean, honestly! This guy was so bold as to say, “I’m the truth.” He’s in essence saying, “think critically and check me out!!!” He’s claiming to be the real deal; He’s claiming reality. So what’s up with that?

        If you honestly check him out and disagree, please logically tell us why you disagree, not that you’re happy in all your evidence. Don’t go into some fluffed up diatribe about fairy lands for atheists. Quit preaching atheism dripping with rhetoric and claiming critical thinking. It stinks. It does the same as you claim religion does. And that kind of post is really not real, even though the “new believers” and Kool-Aid drinks write to say “eloquent and well organized, excellent, awesome.” What is the difference in your post and what religion touts? And you claim you have no dogma and god doesn’t exist, blah, blah, blah.

        I’m not trying to be rude, well actually and honestly I am being rude. It’s just I can say the same about your post that you claim about religion. I can’t stand hypocritical fluff, whether in churches or outside of churches. Let’s agree to think and quit preaching rhetoric.

  3. todd says:

    Here is an idea. Extricate the bible out of your tush, and accept the fact that the only thing that will happen after 12/21/2012 is 12/22/2012.

    Cripes, these doomsayers have been yapping back when I was a kid. Heaven’s Gate, Jim Jones, etc.

    Unless God himself comes down off his royal toilet and says something, I’m above listening to average idiots who claim to be so freaking special.

    • Janet Martin says:

      Todd, you sound like what I imagine the folks sneering at Noah sounded like before the flood.

      • Cousin Achmed the dead terrorist's cousin says:

        Yeah, people like Todd and me and all the other unbelievers should be killed horribly by God, that’ll teach us.

      • Mike says:

        Janet, please give us a shred of evidence that this “great flood” you speak of actually happened. While you are at it, please give PROOF that Jesus Christ actually existed. The writings of Pliny do not count as the church themselves have admitted they were forged by Christians with an agenda. You are not allowed to use the bible as you all admit some parts are parable it is therefore not a book of facts until EVERY single one of you can agree which parts are literal. You have 40 days and 40 nights to finish this quiz. Since a flood that wiped out the ENTIRE earth with an ark that managed to hold two of every beast on the planet would have to leave some evidence behind this should be an easy task. Since a man who defied physics and performed miracles pretty much 24/7 is pretty hard to miss and the greeks were meticulous keepers of history, this also should be a simple task. We can easily prove movements of ice flows and volcanic activity from hundreds of thousands of years ago so it should be easy to go back 2000 years, no?

        That said Janet, I value and love you as a human being and wish nothing but good for you. I truly hope that you will come into the light and see the truth at some point. The truth will set you free.

  4. HMC says:

    As a childhood member of WCG and having known that family for many years, I’m shocked and saddened by her actions.
    Knowing that church the way I do, I wouldn’t at all be surprised to discover that her religious leaders planted those thoughts in her head and even encouraged them.
    Religion is no excuse to stick your head in the sand and refuse to learn about the world around you – unfortunately, religion & churches count on the fact that their members *won’t* educate themselves and will take their preachings on the bible without question.
    And @Janet Martin re: Noah & the flood – please pick up some books and educate yourself about astro-physics, evolution & astro-geology; what you learn may surprise you.

  5. Paul says:

    Quoting CLA : “I went through periods of deep depression which included suicidal thoughts and atheism/agnosticism.”

    CLA, I am really happy for you that you managed to get yourself to a point where you are a bit more critical of the cults you connect yourself with (all religions are cults).

    However, I find it disturbing that you list “atheism” or “agnosticism” alongside “suicidal thoughts” as being the kind of things you considered in your periods of deep depression. You seem to equate the idea of “atheist” as something as dark and wrong as “suicide”.

    For one thing, I want to point out to you that there is no such thing as “Atheism”. There is no Atheist Doctrine and no list of “rules” to follow. There are no Atheist ideas to adhere to. To be Atheist is to be simply “without religious belief”. That is all.

    “Atheism” does not exist. It isn’t a religious doctrine. It is simply the absence of “belief in god(s)”. It isn’t dark, and it isn’t scary. It’s also not depressing in the slightest. I have no idea why you consider it to be so.

    I can only imagine you have been so deeply involved with various cults throughout your life, that you honestly cannot comprehend what it is to live without religion in your life.

    Let me give you an insight into that…

    I am an Atheist person. I am independent. I am confident. I am happy. I live my life in a good way every day. I work hard. I love my family. I celebrate with them. I view the Universe and our Planet with great love and wonder. I love finding out things about the world we are living in, and it’s place in the Universe.

    I am skeptical of anything which does not have evidence to support itself. Because no religion on this planet has *any* evidence to support *any* of their claims, I am an Atheist person.

    The existence of god(s) is something that cannot be proven or unproven… The existence of god(s) is non-falsifiable… As such, the existence of god(s) is a bad premise on which to form an argument. There is *no way* anyone on this planet can tell you anything about god(s).

    I am happy for people to believe whatever fairy-tales they want to inside their own heads, where it can’t do anyone any harm. But when people start putting those fantasies to work in the real world, that can become very dangerous very quickly. Lyn Benedetto’s case is an extreme example of this.

    Critical thinking is the greatest gift you can give your children. It’s also the greatest gift you can give yourself. With critical thinking, a person can look at a given argument such as “god exists, and therefore …. blah blah blah”, and recognise that the premise of that argument is invalid.

    To be an Atheist simply means you are capable of critical thought. To recognise an invalid argument when you see it.

    As an Atheist person, I live a happy and fulfilled life… My love of life is made deeper by my understanding of *reality*. I have no need of any fantasy to give meaning to my life… I have plenty of meaning in my life without scriptures, doctrines, dogma and lies.

    Please ask yourself why you equate “Suicide” with the idea of being “Atheist”. I have to tell you that I find that deeply offensive.

    • santitafarella says:

      Paul,

      As an agnostic, I find your position on atheism inane. Of course atheism is more than just “I don’t believe in gods.” The position entails numerous (fairly predictable) ancillary positions. Here are some: matter has always existed or came from nothing; any given moment is fully accounted for by physics and chemistry without any necessary need to reference the mind; contra-causal free will is illusory (there are no ghosts in the machine); there was no mind prior to matter (and mind is a product of matter).

      Ethically, atheism is prone to nihilism. It is something that is characteristic of the position. I’m sorry, but it is. Ideas hang about in families. To pretend that atheism does not function like other ideas is to make it ahistorical.

      Read your Nietzsche. He thought about his atheism more deeply than you have (and was more honest about it).

      —Santi

      • Many atheists, whether they know it or not, become humanists. From what Paul has described, he already is living as a humanist to some degree or another. Most people who migrate away from religion stumble across this life philosophy on their own.

        As for your other topics:
        – Humanism is the answer to nihilism .. and from what Paul described he already made that leap even if he does not know it.
        – Mind not existing without matter – since he wrote of evidence and science, it seems that he does believe that mind is a product of matter.
        – Matter has always existed, according to the Conservation of Energy. So if Paul remembers his 5th grade science he already has answered this too.
        – Free will as an illusion – no idea what Paul thinks, but most of us never think of it. There are arguments both for and against the concept, all arguments are intangible though, so most of us do not fret. And even if you think that without religion there is no free will, is there really free will in religion? And if free will is an illusion, it is a freaking phenomenal one, so it is hard to stress about it.

        I get that Paul did not articulate all the detail of his beliefs. What he did was make the assumption that once someone stops believing in religion that they will use critical thinking to answer these questions on their own. Most atheists come to almost exactly the same conclusions that Paul did – which also I did. Religion has clergy to chase around and convert unbelievers to the faith, telling them all the details. When someone moves away from religion, they have to chase down the details on their own. This is one of the big failings of modern atheism. Humanism is trying to step up and help fill the clergy role – it is woefully understaffed though. :)

      • santitafarella says:

        Jared,

        Just as Unitarianism is the featherbed for catching the falling Christian, humanism is the featherbed for catching the falling atheist.

        What humanism functions to conceal for the squeamish atheist and agnostic (and I am one of those squeamish agnostics) is the radical Darwinian contingency of existence, its ultimate nihilism and emptiness.

        The leadership of China—atheists all, informed by Buddhist emptiness, and unencumbered by Jeffersonian Enlightenment or Western religious concerns about the individual—is taking us down a very different secular path than Western liberal atheists like Paul Kurtz or Richard Dawkins would have us go. The Chinese leadership is fast leading the world in a eugenic direction—a heightened Darwinian nihilism that we have yet to fathom.

        A century from now, the human race will begin to split into two species: the naturals and the enhanced. And it won’t be religion that has rendered this effect, but atheism shorn of its humanist veneer.

        —Santi

      • Santi-

        It is hard for me to get inside this contingency spurring nihilism and emptiness argument. I know you see this as a big problem with atheism. I am going to try to communicate why it does not bother me .. but I do not know if that will work for others or if it stands up to philosophical scrutiny.

        Since I think all religions are false, I see the people who practice these religions as having chosen their own purpose. They may believe that purpose is dictated by divinity, but they are wrong – they have intellectually or emotionally chosen their purpose. That does not, in any way, diminish their actions. Charity, love, community, all great things that benefit the human species. And benefiting the species is what it is all about. It does not take faith to look at primate behavior, reciprocation and sociobiology to see how social behaviors benefit the species. The idea that evolution favors individual action is demonstrably wrong in our species, most primates, and many other mammals. This is even more quantifiable using recent data and theories. Look at the Hans Rosling and Matt Ridley TED videos for just a few good examples. This translates to the human psyche as well. Emptiness, as you mentioned, is most commonly associated with social isolation and lack of identified self worth. The common remedies being to get out and help others and contribute to society.

        Identifying contribution to the species as a human motivator spans biology, psychology, sociology and all of human history – regardless of what religion someone choses or is prevalent at the time. Religion is simply a manifestation of our default motivators. Our purpose is community, society, and advancing the species. These tenets exist across religions and across human history. Strip away the religion and the idea that our purpose being dictated by a divinity and nothing at all changes.

      • santitafarella says:

        Jared,

        I agree with you that social biology (cooperation among primates, etc) is sufficient to account for human morality. Aristotle famously defined us as the political (or social) animal.

        But being a tribal species in which demonized out-groups are as real a part of our evolved psyches as cooperative in-groups, we have a problem. If God does not exist, there is no obvious reason why we should ever bridge the gap of tribalism and ethno-nationalism over to humanism. I know that Matt Ridley makes a strong rational case for global capitalism as a tie that binds, and maybe it is. It is an important step, I admit. But not having the religious sanction of the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man has consequences.

        It means, for example, that there is nothing restraining the murderous impulses of those who reject humanism. Of course, a person could also simply reject religion and end up at nihilism as well. Nietzsche famously did. (A lot of this argument, either way, is question begging because the problem is epistemically intractable on both sides: why do good? why cooperate if it is not pragmatically useful?)

        What religion and humanism conceal is the intractable nature of the epistemic question.

        So my question is this: once a large culture, or the elite leadership of a country like China or the United States, breaks the spell of universal religion and humanism, what restrains it?

        I say nothing. You see it in the corrupt elites who looted the banks on Wall Street and got the US government to reward them for it with a bail out. You see it in China’s blatant eugenic pursuits.

        My point is this: the fact that God is dead or hidden, and that humanism—for all of its wonderful rhetorical flourish—struggles for justification absent pragmatism, makes the human predicament very precarious.

        A century from now, were you and I to see it, we would exclaim (like Miranda in Shakespeare’s The Tempest), “O brave new world that has such men in it!”

        I worry that those men will not be religious universalists embracing the fatherhood of God and the brotherhood of man, or humanists embracing the brotherhood of man, or Ridley-like democratic and cooperative globalists with ethical moorings, but cyborgs with narrow loyalties, genetically and robotically enhanced, with little stake in the survival or thriving of the mass of naturals (that is, humans like you and me), and rapidly displacing us.

        A century from now, natural humans may be the new Neanderthals, our habitat relentlessly being eaten by a new, more lithe, and clever species born of the crown jewel of Enlightenment humanism: science.

        At that point, humanism will be no more able to save us from this Frankenstein it has birthed (either philosophically or pragmatically) than Neanderthalism might have functioned to save Neanderthals (the universal brotherhood and rationality of Neanderthals).

        A Darwinian logic born of our radical contingency in an (apparently) godless universe is rapidly displacing our feeble attempts—religious or humanist—to regulate its logic.

        I think my argument will only become more obviously correct as the century proceeds. We’ve been in serious intellectual trouble from the day that Darwin’s The Origin of Species was published. Fundamentalists don’t articulate it well, but their unsettled intuition about this is correct. In discovering that species possess no fixity, Darwin discovered that the human species has no fixity, that it can be changed. And over the next century, scientists with different tribal loyalties will race to change it. And religion and humanism will be impotent to stop this new race.

        Nietzsche, in my view, drew all the right conclusions about the consequences of Darwin’s discovery. He saw all of this most clearly, and absorbed it intellectually. But isn’t it curious how few contemporary Western atheists speak of, or debate, Nietzsche? They debate a humanist like Dawkins, and enthuse about science, but are silent about Nietzsche. Why? Because Nietzsche is the blind spot of contemporary atheism; the elephant in the room. He is what humanism is designed to conceal.

        —Santi

      • Santi,

        I do believe that Matt Ridley answers the question perfectly – without actually using your terms. All humans are the same tribe. The benefits of us all being in the same tribe are indisputable. Being in the same tribe and being social animals answers the next question as well – rejection of humanism / religion leading to nihilism. You ask “why do good or why cooperate” if it is not pragmatically useful. We all define good a little bit differently. I think that religion often pollutes true goodness – that is different discussion though. Doing good and cooperating is absolutely useful to the individual. Again, the Matt Ridley presentation gives some examples, but on a wholly self centered approach, there is human psychology. Contributing to society and helping others is one of the foundations of happiness. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Emptiness Not only does doing good and contributing make life tangibly better for everyone, it makes you happy. Excluding the small % of sociopaths in the world, this is another implicit facet of humanity.

        The corrupt have always existed and will always exist. Religion does not stop them, in fact it often masks and protects them. Look at the Catholic Church, recent and past, as a prime example. The outliers of humanity do not change what is implicit in our nature.

        You start getting all SciFi and existential on me around the paragraph starting “a century for now.” :) I am not entirely sure what you are trying to articulate, but will take a shot at it. Human cyborgs and genetically modified humans are more than a likelihood. While the part of humanity that derives happiness from social interaction might be eradicated .. the benefits of specialization and cooperation are not born of human nature. Cooperative systems will always reap the greatest rewards and it has zero to do with biology. This, alone, though will not keep us on the “good” path of humanism. Only quantifying the intrinsic value of life will do that. I wonder though, is life really so highly valued by the religion? Most of the hawks in America are devout Christians who seem to be blithely ignorant of how their pro-war stance violates just about everything Christ taught. Sending soldiers into harms way, the collateral damage of 100s of 1000s of Iraqis .. all shrugged off. It surely could get worse, but when you eliminate the bullshit “immortality” of each individual in the lies of religion and force them to face the fact that they simply end … the value of life can only go up.

        Undoubtedly, man will evolve further – we have never stopped. We may guide our own evolution to a certain extend. But so what? This is neither good not bad, it just is. You keep saying Nietzsche, but not the aspect of concern that troubles you. Earlier in your post, it is emptiness, but I do not think this is what you are referring to at the end of your post. I do not understand your last 2 paragraphs much at all. What, exactly, is it that is the elephant in the room that needs confrontation? Emptiness, cooperation, value of life, all of these issues are already addressed.

        I also fail to see how religion saves us from any of this. Christian morality has changed radically over the last few 1000 years. It is subjective and malleable. You are raging against the sky in your worries. We evolve. We have intellect. We will manipulate this knowledge. The future is going to be the future and human nature is going to drive it – whether god exists or not (he doesn’t) – human nature has and always will drive the human race to advance. Even when everyone in the western world was a Christian, this was true.

  6. santitafarella says:

    Jared,

    I may be a Cassandra about this. I don’t know. But capitalism is evolution by other means. It is a cooperative practice that knits groups together—large and small—and helps them reach mutual goals more efficiently. But, like biological evolution, it is also a competitive system against outgroups. It all depends on how broadly or narrowly the capitalist defines the cooperative group she concerns herself with. I think it’s quite obvious that, in many cases (and probably most), that definition is narrow (stock holders, a particular family or country, a specific network of capitalist entities, etc).

    I hope you are right that humanism will knit humanity together (because of its obvious benefits). I don’t see it happening (not just because religion resists it, but because Machiavellians resist it as well).

    Imagine the same cadre of elite bankers who looted Wall Street and corrupted the housing market over the past several years. Now add genetic engineering, robotics, and eugenics into the mix.

    That’s our future. A Machiavellian elite and the rest of us suckers.

    As for Nietzsche, he got everything right. So I say all of the above (to your list of what he addressed). He identified every reductio ad absurdum of a godless Darwinian universe, and wrote about their consequences theatrically. He saw where the world was going early and clearly. Like Darwin, he is inescapable. He saw the chess board and where the checkmate for religion and humanism was (at the intersections of contingency, evolution, and nihilism). If God is dead, the shadow that great body casts is humanism.

    —Santi

    • tomokun says:

      I’m a theological noncognitivist (ignostic), and frankly I find your extrapolations on the implications of atheism a bit inane (as you had mentioned to someone earlier).

      Atheism simply implies a non-belief. It isn’t a separate category from agnosticism… rather it defines which side of the fence you are on as an agnostic. There is no “philosophy of atheism”… there are simply atheists to one god and atheists to many gods.

      Atheism is an answer to the question “does god/metaphysics” exist, and nothing more. There are a million and one paths to this answer – some of them less rational than others. There ARE atheists out there who could never tell you why, and there are atheists out there who are specifically atheists against only 1 or 2 religions. There is no unifying thought beyond the response “I don’t believe”, which is why I find it so ridiculous to assume that atheism inevitably moves towards nihilism.

      In point of fact, Nietzsche was arguing that RELIGIOUS philosophies (conflated by class tribalism) resulted in nihilism – and that scientific discoveries would result in a loss of universal truths leading to an enmeshing of individual perspectives – it is only the POSSIBILITY that perspectivism would lead to out and out nihilism (an extreme case to be sure) – so I don’t understand how bringing up Nietzsche helps your point at all.

      Honestly Nietzsche was just a really gloomy guy, and I think pessimism gives a dim view of mankind’s ability to become more than we are.

      At the end of the day, nihlism is the default philosophy of emo teenagers and suicidal adults. Every day people create and find their own “meaning” – frequently via sources of pleasure, such as companionship, cooperation, and capitalism. We long for people to care for us, to think we are special, to help us through our trials and tribulations, and the material goods and security to go along with it.

      Atheism has little to do with this, except to say that some atheists are nihilists and some are not. Nietzsche may PREDICT that atheism leads to nihilism, but unfortunately the modern day facts prove otherwise.

      Atheists are overwhelmingly either rationalists or humanists (and many are a combination of the two). You cannot say atheists are more prone to nihilism in the face of this,simply because Nietzsche seems to have argued that it is so when the facts clearly demonstrate otherwise. If you need more proof than that, simply look at existing secular countries like the Netherlands, who donate more per capita to charity than “spiritual” nations like the US.

      In my humble opinion, there is nothing better to drive a person to be the best they can be than the absolute conviction that this is the only chance at life they will ever get. When you only have 1 shot at life, every breath you take because that much more important.

      • santitafarella says:

        Tomokun,

        I agree with you that there is such a thing as religious nihilism. When a religious person quotes a text that says, “God says, ‘kill them all'”, that’s nihilistic.

        The problem is what to ground morality in if you do not posit God as love. We are all chasing justifications for our behavior in a universe that does not speak. Only we speak, and if we don’t start with “God is love” then we end up in cognitive dissonance (some form of humanism) or nihilism (religious or atheistic). Whether the authority is a holy book that advocates killing, a scientific book that makes killing “natural”, or a philosopher (like Nietzsche) saying the God of the weak is dead, it’s all the same. Why resist the impulse to kill and regard the world as a “big nothing” (to quote Tony Soprano)? If your response is some form of pragmatism (it’s beneficial to cooperate), you haven’t solved the problem.

        If a loving God exists, she ain’t talking. And the holy books advocate murder. And so human beings, theist or atheist, must always wrestle with nihilism. Can we look at the truth without plucking out our eyes (via humanism and religion)?

        —Santi

      • tomokun says:

        Who says that you can’t have an objective morality based on science? As Sam Harris describes the peaks and valleys of human experience, it seems fairly obvious that we would want to maximize the peaks while minimizing the valleys.

        There is PLENTY that science can say about morality thanks to fields like sociology, psychology, history, and biology. They reveal objective truths about human existence and our subjective experiences. If the end-goal of an applied objective morality is not the flourishing and embetterment of sapient species, than what IS the point of morality?

        Ideas are only as good as their usefulness. It is not enough to say that “stealing is wrong/immoral”, we should be able to say WHY it is immoral. Failing to answer the question of why, or worse, saying that it is wrong because “god says it is” only brings up more questions.

        For example, does god love what is good, or is it good because god loves it? When god says killing is OK, does that make it moral in spite of his commandments and instructions? Is it truly possible for ANY being to be above morality? If so, are humans thus able to transcend morality?

        All of these questions spawn simply because when we talk about “god”, we have no idea what we are talking about. The concept is ill-defined that it remains a pointless, numinous concept of no real worth (as I said before, an idea’s value is tied to its usefulness). So how, I ask you, is this worthless concept the lynch-pin for something as important as morality?

        Instead, when you objectively break things down, we find that “killing is bad” because it is in direct contradiction to “cooperation”, which is largely the reason society’s function. The same goes for stealing, the golden rule, altruism, and many other concepts we as human beings have come to identify as “good”. See, the why’s are all answered in these instances.

        You can even take specific moral dilemmas, such as the one that asks if it is morally “OK” to harvest 7 healthy organs from 1 healthy person to save the lives of 7 people. The answer is that this is immoral because the wider implications of this behavior is a society that trusts the medical establishment less, and would become less healthy as a result. Things that foment distrust and do not promote cooperation are thus “immoral actions”.

  7. Anonymous says:

    The heavens declare the glory of God…..period.

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