His aversion to religion, in the sense usually attached to the term, was of the same kind with that of Lucretius: he regarded it with the feelings due not to a mere mental delusion, but to a great moral evil. He looked upon it as the greatest enemy of morality: first, by setting up factitious excellencies — belief in creeds, devotional feelings, and ceremonies, not connected with the good of human kind — and causing these to be accepted as substitutes for genuine virtue: but above all, by radically vitiating the standard of morals; making it consist in doing the will of a being, on whom it lavishes indeed all the phrases of adulation, but whom in sober truth it depicts as eminently hateful.
— John Stuart Mill on his father
I have never, ever read such an apt and thorough description of my own judgment of religion (as moral evil and great enemy). I came upon this in chapter two of God is not Great by Christohper Hitchens, which, incidentally, I’m reading on my new Sony Reader which is just fabulous. For years I’ve said that paper books won’t have real competition until they come up with a display you can comfortably read in bed and never be interrupted by having to charge a battery. Well, you can and it’s here. You can travel with thousands of books (SD card) and can read about fifteen 500 page books between charges of the battery. It’s about the size and weight of a standard paperback novel. Fabulous. Direct outdoor sunlight just makes the display better, just like the page of a book.
I’ll be blogging more about Hitch’s new book. All indications, so
far, are that it’s in a whole different league from the other anti-god
tomes of late. It’s a very slow read: very literary and there’s just a
whole lot of meaning and implication on every page.
Oh, regarding that quote, a quick brush-up on Lucretius reveals:
main purpose of the work was to free men’s minds of superstition and
the fear of death. It achieves this through expounding the
philosophical system of Epicurus,
whom Lucretius apotheosizes. Lucretius identifies superstition with the
notion that the gods/supernatural powers created our world or interfere
with its operations in any way. Fear of such gods is banished by
showing that the operations of the world can be accounted for entirely
in terms of the regular but purposeless motions of tiny atoms and
agglomerations of atoms in interaction in empty space, instead of in
terms of the will of the gods. The fear of death is banished by showing
that death is the dissipation of a being’s material mind, and so, as a
simple ceasing-to-be, death can be neither good nor bad for this being.
The value of life for a being is something that only matters to this
being during its life. Fear of death is a projection of terrors
experienced in life, of pain that only a living (intact) mind can feel.
Lucretius also puts forward the ‘symmetry argument’ against the fear of
death. In it, he says that people who fear the prospect of eternal
non-existence after death should think back to the eternity of
non-existence before their birth, which they probably do not fear.
that he developed these notions some 50 years or more before the birth
of Christ. So: we’re at over two millenniums and counting of getting
stupider and stupider.