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Why religious belief is both deceptive and catastrophically damaging

30 November 2012, 10:16

Christians often try to make the argument that even if they are wrong, their beliefs are benign, and so what if we reach the end of our lives, at least we would have lived them well.  This makes a rather large and arrogant assumption - which is that cheating, being lazy with facts is actually in our interests, as long as what we're doing is 'for a good cause'.

Cheating, for everyone's own good, and the good of the sport (supposedly) is what got Lance Armstrong and his millions of supporters, and the sport of cycling, into its current debacle. To call it a catastrophe is an understatement. The idea was motivated by that slight variation from the truth - that the beliefs of the cheaters, and indeed Lance's beliefs may not be right, but if they are wrong, they're not very wrong.  The result of course is this: living a lie.  The having those titles stripped is evidence enough that we are outraged by such dishonesty.

For more practical purposes, there are just two implications of belief in a Creator (Christian or otherwise) that I'll mention here, that are explicitly damaging and dangerous.  There are plenty of others, but for the sake of brevity let's stick to these:

1. The belief that God created the world, means that it could have happened very recently.  As recently as 6000 years ago.  It robs our species and our world of a backstory.  It means the geography, the history, the climate, our collective biologies were simply conjured into place.  They were not adapted, or related to one another, or in response to their environment, simply created with a toolbox (apparently) of adaptations for a world geared to spinning in and out of apparently God-ordered control.

2.  It also fragments and separates the connections we would otherwise have to not only each other (as in the entire spectrum of human beings, from all creeds and cultures) but also all other living things, because since we are made in God's image (and no other living thing) we are thus not of this world, we're holy, and special, and unnaturally good.  We have dominion over everything else, and so we must not be of this world, but separate from it. And of course, that is exactly what we are, and have become, and hence, our current confusion.  For we live in a world made by God that seems awfully random, and otherwise does not to make much sense.

While the above may seem innocuous, the reality is quite different.  Let's look at two recent 'discoveries' for context.

Of late, human populations have been suffering unimaginable cancer and obesity rates.  The death rate due to heart disease is also unprecedented. More people die of heart disease than from anything else.  And more people are dying now (in numbers and proportions) than at any other time in human history.  The leading cause of our premature death and ballooning waistlines is of course our diet.  For the past few decades we have been told that meat and fat is bad for us, and bad for our hearts, and that carbohydrates are good for us, and ought to form part (and quite a large part) of our major food groups.

It turns out that the fat molecules (cholesterol) from sugar are deadly, trinagular, small and dense.  These pack into our arteries causing plaques and blockages that are very difficult to clear.  The fats from animals, on the other hand, are large and round and easily flushed out of our blood.  We're adapted to eat animal fat, copious amounts.  But not sugars, not even in moderate amounts.  Of course what is happening is that carbohydrate is forming part and parcel of every meal we eat, so much so it has come to be known as 'junk food'.  It's delicious, and we're addicted to it.  What's more, no one seems to be sure what's wrong with it, or which fats are bad for us.  And so people continue to die of heart disease.  Ignorant, uninformed, helpless, starved of common sense.

For the past few decades we've been told that carbohydrates are an essential food group.  We're supposed to eat breads, pastas, potatoes etc. Recent research has proved that this is false.  But the reason we have been fooled for decades is because we assume that the human animal is fairly new on the scene, and everything that we're eating now is also normal (including cereal crops and high fructose corn syrup).  We don't see that we're finely tuned and adapted to a certain way of living and locomoting ourselves, and to ignore that risks disease and premature death.

It turns out that the human animal is adapted over tens of thousands of years, and our bodies are designed for a particular kind of diet.  It is NOT designed to absorb massive quantities of ready available carbohydrate, especially those found in beer, breads, sodas and other sweet foods. Consider in natuire the unlikelihood of finding any speed or starchy foods?  Protein yes, cucumber-like tubers perhaps, berries and mushrooms - but sweet foods are almost anathema.  Honey is perhaps one of the few exceptions.  Of course, if you don't believe we evolved over millenia, you're not going to be interested in the diets of hunter gatherers, and you're going to have a random and fragmented approach to nutrition.

Based on human biology, the structure of our teeth, and digestive tract, and limps, we are primarily hunters and vegetable (but not fruit) eaters.  The eating of grass seed accounts for only the last 0.5% of human history. 

By the same token, we've also woken up to the fact, recently, that cushioned running shoes do our feet and legs no favours.  Instead of preventing injury, they often cause injury.  The feet's sensors receive mixed signals in terms of the terrain they move over, the rest of the body becomes lazy in terms of transmitting these signals into adaptive body posture.  So we have an entire running shoe industry based on a lie, a deception that is not only not beneficial, but counterproductive, to strength and fitness.

Our ignorance with running shoes mirrors our ignorance with nutrition.  Just as the paleo diet provides a crystal clear template of how to eat (eat unrefined foods, unprocessed food, produce and meat) so too does the biological record reveal that the human animal is not just designed to run, but we are all born ultra-distance runners.

The combination of being able to modulate our breathing and specialised and elastic tissues such as the achilles tendon make us born distance runners.  We're designed to run down our prey.  A jogging man is capable of outrunning both a dog and horse (and virtually every other animal) over periods of longer than a day.  What is the diet that fuels such extended activity?  Stuff like pemmican http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pemmican - high in fat and protein.  The world's best Ironman athletes have dominated on a similar fuel supply (energy supplied by ketosis).  On the other hand, a carbohydrate meal like a smorgasbord of pizzas will provide little more than 2-3 hours maximum, before energy has to be replaced. 

In the case of hunter gatherers, we even have video evidence of our own bushmen running down Kudu http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=826HMLoiE_o over a 2-4 hour period (approximate to running a marathon).

As we have discovered, wearing simpler, cheaper shoes that allow our feet to feel the ground, and take something of a beating, and more simple foods that activate our digestive systems (providing fibre but also vital and healthy fats) is good for us.  The reason these elementary aspects are a mystery to us is because we believe there is no backstory.  We believe God simply made man, and everything that is around us is pretty much the way it's been and should be for the foreseeable future.  We don't see our connections either into the depths of time, or even to this planet.  We believe we were created here, and will go off to heaven after we die, hence our investments in really knowing what is going on here are minimal.

By believing as we do, we deny not only our own epic backstories, we impoverish overselves, we lose our identities, we lose ordinary touch with nature and our own inner natures.  We lie to each other and doom ourselves to repeat some pretty elementary mistakes. That we don't know how to eat or what to eat or even what is healthy, makes us even lower than the animals. Our emphasis on God and heaven means we lose focus on Earth, and make it more and more, a living hell, not only for fellow believers (wallowing in heart disease, obesity, depression etc) but for the rest of us as well.

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