The word “halitosis” is a household term which everyone knows means bad breath. But did you know that the word has been around for less than a hundred years, and was invented not by the medical field, but by advertisers?
Back in the 1920s, people didn’t worry about body odor as much as they do now. They didn’t bathe nearly as often, they didn’t wear deodorant, and some bodily smells weren’t necessarily considered socially catastrophic. A family antiseptic company called Listerine was able to increase its revenue from $115,000 to $8 million over the course of seven years by helping to change that.
Listerine had been around since the 1880s, marketed as a household cleaner, a medical antiseptic, and a treatment for gonorrhea, among many other uses. Forty years later, the company’s owner and his son came up with the brilliant idea to look up a fancy latin word for bad breath that sounds like a medical condition and then market it as though it’s an actual diagnosable disease that is crippling everyone’s social life. They ran advertisements telling wives that their halitosis was making them unappealing to their husbands, telling husbands that their halitosis was making their wives not want to kiss them, telling young women that they’d remain unmarried and unwanted forever if they didn’t cure their “unexcusable” condition with Listerine, even telling mothers that their breath may be grossing out their own children.
And it worked. People began throwing their money at this company, suddenly desperate to cure a horrible medical condition that they’d only just found out was a thing. By manufacturing demand for their product using artificially instilled shame and fear, Listerine made a fortune.
This type of advertisement is now commonplace, because it works. Mothers are told that they may be endangering their children by not using X cleaning product. Fathers are made to feel as though they’re not protecting their family because they don’t own home security system Y. Wives and girlfriends are made to feel self-conscious about how their lady parts might smell if they don’t use feminine hygiene product Z. Screens, billboards and magazine ads blare constantly, “Did you know that you are deeply flawed? You are! But don’t worry, Panaceavox can fix you!” In America they’re allowed to straight up say “Hey, have you ever felt kind of emotionally not okay? Well there’s a diagnosis for that. Ask your doctor if Thorazac is right for you.” People are manipulated into fretting about a problem they didn’t know they had til two seconds ago, then sold the solution.
What people think of as “sin” is a lot like Listerine’s halitosis marketing ploy, except unlike bad breath, sin doesn’t actually exist. And, for those who profit from religion, it’s also been exponentially more lucrative.
Sin is completely made up; we’re all a bunch of large-brained primates moving around in the world and experiencing the consequences of those movements, no more, no less. As a Catholic, I was told that all babies were born sinners, with tiny little blackened souls that would go straight to hell if the priest didn’t get to them first and dunk their deceptively pretty little demon heads in magic water tout suite. It didn’t stop there either. You had to celebrate an ancient Nazarene zombie who came back from the dead because somehow that made our sins go away for a little while, just as long as you turned up each week to drink zombie blood and eat zombie body in some kind of pretend cannibal ritual. The weirdest thing about it was that I thought it was perfectly normal. That’s how you avoided being a sinner.
When you unplug those stories from the power of belief, it’s a laughably transparent marketing scheme.
“Guess what? You know how you feel like you’re basically fine? Well you’re not! You’re infected with Sin, and only this One True Religion™ can rescue you from it! That’s right, it slices, it dices, it protects your soul from eternal hellfire, it’s the One True Religion™! Follow the One True Religion™ and you will be freed from the burden of Sin, and you’ll go the the best place you can possibly imagine (*cough* when you’re dead). Refuse to follow the One True Religion™, and all that sin will cause literally the worst thing you can possibly imagine to happen to you (after you’re dead, we can’t show it to you here). Act now, supplies are running out, here comes the tithe basket, buy your way into the One True Religion™ today!”
Ridiculous, manipulative hogwash.
Fear isn’t the only thing factoring into people’s belief in sin, of course. It can be egoically gratifying to believe that the real assholes in our world will spend eternity writhing in a state of eternal torture for their transgressions. Also, more significantly, it can feel very comforting to have a set of prescribed “do”s and “don’t”s in a world that is otherwise a completely boundless and open-ended improvisation exercise, with no ultimate rules or guidelines of any kind. It can feel very comforting to have a set of guidelines to live by for which you have no responsibility, which were handed to you from On High by a flawless omniscient and omnipotent deity underlying the fundamental ground of reality.
But that’s just it: you are responsible. It absolutely is your responsibility to figure out how best to move around in this wide open universe, and you don’t get to abdicate that responsibility to some douchebag in a funny hat or some imaginary zombie carpenter. Sin and sanctity are made-up bullshit concepts, which means that the only understanding of how to behave in this world that has any relevance to you at all is your own understanding.
This responsibility can be daunting, but taking it seriously is the first step to becoming the kind of human being that can overcome the huge challenges that our species is facing in the near future.
To act with responsibility in life, you don’t get to rely on anyone else’s rules. You’ve got to get really clear on what you value, what kind of world you want to live in, what kind of life you’re trying to craft for yourself, and begin taking actions toward making those assessments a reality. There is no ultimate right and wrong inscribed on the fabric of reality; you’ve got to make it up for yourself, based on your own clarity of vision and your own will for your surroundings.
People say, “Well if we didn’t believe in absolute right and wrong behavior, we’d all just be a bunch of hedonistic criminals!” Rubbish. If you had the ability to make a movie and have the movie contain anything you want to see, it wouldn’t be full of rape and murder and destruction; you’d try your best to create a thing of beauty. Our lives are the same way. We’re all trying on some level to craft beautiful lives and help create an enjoyable world, which never entails going around hurting people and destroying things. And the clearer our seeing becomes, the more skillful we become in doing so.
The only exception to this would perhaps be sociopaths and psychopaths and people with other severe personality disorders, but their type has never truly believed in sin anyway. Sin is a construct of social manipulation, and manipulators recognize manipulation. A sociopath only cares about the concept of sin to the extent that they can use it to get what they want. Only emotionally and empathetically normal people are impacted by the concept of sin.
The popular acceptance of the concept of sin is a consequence of the way we are psychologically hardwired and the way that that wiring has been manipulated, and you see that same wiring fiddled with in similar ways in many other areas. The way centrists browbeat leftists for not falling in line with Hillary Clinton in the lead-up to the 2016 US elections, for example, often looked barely distinguishable from a gaggle of church ladies abusing one of their sisters for wanting to leave the church or get a divorce. Instead of the promise of hell it was the promise of Donald Trump ending the world, and instead of sin being disobedience to God it was disobedience to the mainstream liberal orthodoxy. But the same kind of shaming, manipulation and groupthink herd bullying was present in both cases. The notion of personal sovereign responsibility was violently rejected as anathema by the Church of the Blue Donkey.
Sin is a tool of social manipulation just like advertising, and just like propaganda. Religion, advertising and propaganda all pull the same psychological strings. Since as far back as recorded history stretches, those with wealth and power have been using whatever tools they have at their disposal to control the ways people think and behave. When religion held more psychological weight, they used that to justify book burnings, heretic burnings, and the destruction of anything that challenged the ruling order. Now that humanity is vomiting up the plague of religion from its DNA, propaganda and advertising are taking its place.
But it’s the same kind of manipulation in each case, the same disease, and the cure for that disease is the same too. By insisting on your own sovereign perspective, all attempts to manipulate you out of that perspective begin to stand out like a black fly on a white page. By standing firmly in what you know to be true, what kind of life you know you’re trying to live, and what kind of world you know you’re trying to help create, you give yourself a clear picture of the path that you are on. With that clear picture, any attempts to manipulate you off of that path in any way are easily seen for the unwelcome intrusions that they are, whether they take the form of “You are sinful and you need Jesus,” “You are flawed and you need this product,” or “Trust Big Brother to do what’s right for you.” And you can shrug off the manipulators and stride toward the bright consequences you wish to generate with your actions.
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Sean / May 21, 2019
I really enjoy most of your articles and want to thank you for your important contributions to journalism. I share many of your posts on Twitter.
I’m confused about your assertion that sin is made up. Do you believe there is no right or wrong? What should be done to people who hurt others as they “figure out how best to move around in the wide open universe”? Should people who steal not be punished for that “movement”? I know what you think of murder, especially on the scale that politicians of today operate. What DO you call their actions, if not sinful or wrong? Labeling them (sociopath/psychopath) doesn’t answer what you call their actions / “movement”. You can’t be thrown in jail for being a sociopath. It’s when you take action that consequences are meted out. If you don’t call those actions wrong or sin then what are they? “Moving around” feels like a cop-out. I think this article falls short in truly exploring your assertion that there is no such thing as sin. You don’t address what it actually is if it’s not sin.
Most people have a basic sense of what is right and wrong (sociopaths and psychopaths excepted). Everyone “moves around” in a way that causes pain and hurt on others. I call this sin. Some call it wrong or morals. But it is a thing and it is not just psychopaths who do it. We all do.
I know that you and your family have been wronged by people who claim to do God’s work. For that I’m sorry and I genuinely ask for forgiveness on behalf of those who have represented Christ so poorly.
Thank you again for the gift you are and the much needed voice you bring to those of us who oppose the neocon/neoliberal agenda of endless wars!
Cactus Harry / April 22, 2019
OMG, You really blew it! Here I was thinking that perhaps your perspective on things in general was grounded on the just right stuff, and then you go and publish this monstrosity of an article utterly ranting in the most conceivably sophomoronical way against perhaps the most deeply held spiritual, intellectual and core existential convictions of billions upon billions of human beings past, present and future. It’s really all about Caitlin cause she’s such a goddammed fuckin’ ace, how evident could anything ever truly have been! Holy shit, my bad! I fucking repent!!
Caitlin Johnstone (Author) / April 22, 2019
You misspelled “I disagree with you here, but I’ll live.”
Cactus Harry / April 22, 2019
RC - Garrs / January 4, 2020
Harry you’re right about “past, present and …
No one can know the future.
Woo- woo fortune tellers say they can.
Similarly, people think they know their gods and associated baggage really exist.
That’s not reality; that’s imagination.
Who’s the psycho now?
RC - Garrs / January 4, 2020
Ask yourselves, Harry et al, why are there so many different gods among the 10,000 + religions that have made the claim their’s had the one true god.
It’s just an invention for “man’s” quest to dominate and disseminate .
Lee England / January 4, 2020
One of the greatest replies of all time. Catus Harry may have read your article but he clearly did not digest it. I am lucky to live in now one of the most atheist countries in the world and never have to interact with these militant religious types. To me it is like the strange brand loyalty that people have.
Questioner / January 4, 2020
Not knowing that God is a made up fictional character is like not knowing that Spiderman is a made up fictional character. God is pretend.
Cactus Harry / April 22, 2019
OMG, You really blew it! Here I was thinking that perhaps your perspective on things in general was grounded on the just right stuff, and then you go and publish this monstrosity of an article utterly ranting in the most conceivably sophomoronical way against perhaps the most deeply held spiritual, intellectual and core existential convictions of billions upon billions of human beings past, present and future. It’s really all about Caitlin cause she’s such a goddammed fuckin’ ace, how evident could anything ever truly have been! Holy shit, my bad! I fucking repent!
simon.brelsford / April 7, 2019
google 30 years among the dead and life in the worlds unseen and university of spiritualism and attend a few open circles and see what you find out.
simon.brelsford / April 7, 2019
google 30 years among the dead and life in the worlds unseen and university of spiritualism then investigate spiritualist open circle meetings and see what you find out.
mic pj fetch / April 6, 2019
Caitlin…no God equals no judgment. All the bad guys get away with it. Everything is reduced to Will to Power. Or Triumph of the Will?? Atheism works nicely for the Hitchins and the Dawkins in their comfy cloisters but the will to power in the ghetto is darwinianism on steroids.
Roberto Gentilli / April 6, 2019
You may describe Jesus as a Nazarene zombie. Others described him so:
I see his blood upon the rose
And in the stars the glory of his eyes,
His body gleams amid eternal snows,
His tears fall from the skies.
I see his face in every flower;
The thunder and the singing of the birds
Are but his voice—and carven by his power
Rocks are his written words.
All pathways by his feet are worn,
His strong heart stirs the ever-beating sea,
His crown of thorns is twined with every thorn,
His cross is every tree.
That was Joseph Plunkett, and that was his alst poem before he was executed by the British for having fought for the liberation of Ireland.
Eddie / April 4, 2019
“If only it were all so simple! If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?”
― Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, The Gulag Archipelago 1918–1956
Famous Mikey / April 4, 2019
Caitlin, beautiful riff/rant on the occult- and pagan-based belief systems of Christianity, which were designed to engender fear in the believers, or flocks of sheep, as the followers of the ‘Good Book’ were so quaintly and aptly called.
I think Christianity can best be described as the world’s most successful psychological operation embedded within a business model. This manipulative and wealth harvesting model, envisioned by the Roman Emperor Constantine and finally fashioned into its final form by the Council of Nicaea, incorporated cherry-picked and redacted versions of Jewish history as well as aspects of other ‘pagan’ religions and cultures to establish the Christian doctrine and canonical texts.
In order to break out of the malevolent matrix in which we all find ourselves, humanity must break free of the religious-based group-think, as well as the reverence for, and subservience to ‘authority figures’. Humans must begin to trust themselves as sovereign entities and think independently. But I’ll be damned if I know how that can be accomplished. It is going to be hard, as evidenced by many of the pious, scolding comments you’ve received to this article.
PB / April 4, 2019
I would say that to act morally is to act in harmony with one’s own deepest nature or essence. Naturally, such activity can take on different expressions, just as light shining thorough one or more colored filters will take on the coloration of those filters, yet retain its original nature as light. In keeping with this notion unethical or immoral behavior would be based upon either a temporary or more enduring dissonance or dissociation between the self-perceived agent (“me”) and the deeper nature and underlying reality of that same “me”. While some “religious” beliefs and rituals may aid in connecting or re-connecting the agentic self or “me” with its deeper essence, the presumption of any institution or ideology as possessing the exclusive power to do so … speaks for itself.
Warren / April 4, 2019
People say that we can’t be sure of what becomes of us after death, I can plainly see what comes after death as sure as anyone can see what happens to roadkill – worms, flies and decay. This is the only life we are going to get, stop pretending the fantasies that people tell us, it’s all wishful thinking. Live it like it was your only chance, because it is
Don / April 4, 2019
Hi Caitlin. I typically enjoy reading your articles with reference to the political theatre we have 24/7 before all of our eyes. You are spot on much of the time. Indeed, much of the planet is ruled by a cabal of narcissistic sociopaths and psychopaths. This is patently obvious for anyone with eyes to see. However, when it comes to opinion on the unseen and matters of faith, suffice it to say we differ. To state that sin is an artificial man-made construct is way off. To ignore the presence of the battle between good and evil is short sighted. There is a standard. I did not create it. There is right and wrong in this world. If it were left up to me to determine my own set of morals and rules, then who might you be to declare me in the wrong if, for example, I personally believed it’s perfectly fine to take something that belongs to you. This is relativism and is something that incidentally is applied frequently in a democracy. But, if 51% of the mob believes it’s acceptable to steal from the minority does that render theft righteous? So, again we have a standard. That standard comes from our Creator. He has given us a choice and exorted all of us to choose life, health, blessing, and righteousness. Our Creator is not a mean old crotchety bearded ogre that desires to squash us like a bug the second we step out of line, but on the contrary a caring daddy who provides structure and rules for his children born out of intense love. I make rules for my children. I teach them many do’s and don’ts over the years. I do this, not because I’m Daddy and they better do as I say, or else… I do this because I love my children and desire to see them immensely blessed and far from harm or hurt. I want my children to have a fear of daddy. Not an unhealthy fear of injury or various forms of trauma but a fear that they will disappoint me and be disciplined if they fail to follow my “rules”. When they choose to be obedient as a result of this, it forms the very essence of a loving intimate relationship. If you have children you know exactly what i’m talking about. When children trust us as parents and walk in our ways there is almost nothing like it on earth. It is my firm belief that our heavenly “Father” enjoys this same type of love when we choose to trust him and walk in His ways. To intimate that we as humans can and should determine our own path or moral compass is the very essence of Satanism. The satanic bible teaches “ do as thou wilt”. In other words, whatever you believe is right or acceptable…go for it. This teaches people to be their own god. That said, as far as religion is concerned, I would have to agree with many of your points. Religion by definition is man made. Much religion the world over functions to control people. Faith on the other hand is very different. Belief in a creator and earnest pursuit of knowing said Creator – would it be so for all who read this. He does reward those who truly seek Him. You, however, have blasphemed His son (which fortunately is a forgivable offense), and ironically when he walked among the people 2000 years ago, he actually railed against religion. The religion, Christianity, has adopted many practices and doctrines around this man they call Jesus. But to use a phrase l’ve heard authored by Mark Call, “His momma never called him Jesus”. His real Hebrew name was/is Yahushua and he was the Torah made flesh. He never called people to religiosity, but to repentance and obedience to the original/eternal standard given to man by God. He pointed out back then what people were doing was not in accordance with our heavenly Father’s instructions and they hated him for it. He was indeed executed, but entirely innocent. The grave did not hold him and he will return. Between now and whenever that may be, the message and teaching remains the same – Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. So, if you can accept that there is indeed a standard that comes from a much higher authority than man,, “sin” is simply transgression of that standard. Unfortunately, many people reading this will recoil at the idea of repentance and desire no other authority outside themselves. I pray that ultimately that might not be you.
Michael Campbell / April 4, 2019
Odin, . . . right ?
You’re talking about Odin, …right ?
Really COOL …..’cause I LUV Odin too !!!
RC-Garrs / April 4, 2019
You didn’t get through to some respondents, Caitlin.
They seem certain the “creator” is a He, in seems.
Charlie Beall / April 8, 2019
Thoughtful, respectful and wise words. May the Light be with you.
Klaus von Berlin / April 4, 2019
The more fantastic an ideology or theology, the more fanatic its adherents.
Anacreonic Cunegonda / April 4, 2019
You dont discern between psyche and apirit, fair enough thats your choice. In terms of psyche though, there is a difference between perspectivism as a form of plurality which allows the possibility of other perspectives, and relativism which claims the divine right that your own truth is the only right way, and is the dark path i think.
Michael Campbell / April 4, 2019
People hold, tenaciously, some widely varied views on this topic, from “Religion is only about the control of the masses by the privileged and the powerful”; to “Nah-ah….you don’t KNOW what comes after Death either”; to “Extraordinary claims REQUIRE extraordinary EVIDENCE.”
My own pondering on this topic comes from a different angle.
It has been posited by Matthew Alper, John Wathey, Robert Bellah and others that this tendency toward religious interpretations of life is an evolutionary adaptation to the existential terror of our being the only animal on the planet that knows with absolute certainly that, “I am going to die.” Alper thinks that this knowledge had a paralyzing, catastrophic impact on our ancestors, one that required an evolutionary fine-tuning to cope with.
So, we ended up with both a Language Acquisition Device AND a kind of God-contextualizing apparatus, something that could fit our knowledge of our own coming death in with our Honey-do list of gathering roots and killing mastodons to feed the little ones, while we guarded the family’s cave door from Saber toothed cats.
A good book on this borrows a line form William James as the Title: THE WORM AT THE CORE……which posits :
” A transformative, fascinating theory— Terror Management Theory — based on robust and groundbreaking experimental research reveals how our unconscious fear of death powers almost everything we do, shining a light on the hidden motives that drive human behavior. ”
” More than one hundred years ago, the American philosopher William James dubbed the knowledge that we must die “the worm at the core” of the human condition. In 1974, cultural anthropologist Ernest Becker won the Pulitzer Prize for his book The Denial of Death, arguing that the terror of death has a pervasive effect on human affairs. Now authors Sheldon Solomon, Jeff Greenberg, and Tom Pyszczynski clarify with wide-ranging evidence the many ways the worm at the core guides our thoughts and actions, from the great art we create to the devastating wars we wage. “
Mike / April 4, 2019
This article calls out serious flaws of organized “RELIGION”, but I feel that it builds a weak straw man out of Christianity. The use of religion to trick people into obeying authorities and blessing unrighteous wars is a trope as old as time, but if you look objectively at the teachings of the Christ, it is vastly different from the apostate abomination that controls the Church.
Jesus commanded his followers to love God and to love your neighbors (especially your enemies) as yourself, and spent his free time denouncing the hypocrites and Pharisees for loving their rituals and “RELIGION” more than God and their fellow humans. This seems to be in direct conflict to the rampant homophobia and idolatrous state worship that plagues the Church today. In fact, Jesus and the prophets were hard dudes who were sent to denounce the cruel and abusive practices of the clergy and the state authorities.
“Let he who is without sin cast the first stone” -John 8:7 (Saying if you are sinful, you have no right to accuse/stone others)
“Woe to him who builds a city with bloodshed and establishes a town by injustice!” -Habakkuk 2:12
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God” -Micah 6:8
The issue is not Christianity, but rather it is a problem with the false prophets who cloak themselves in ritual, impressive titles, and nice words. That being said, the Mosaic laws leave much to be desired. I don’t really have a rebuttal for that. 🙁
Milo / April 4, 2019
I know God is real because I have experienced the power of prayer in my own life. Absolutely wouldn’t be without it. I was never exposed to Catholicism but I know people who were raised that way and most of them don’t understand the Word either. Hence they are angry and disappointed and blame the source of the message instead of the dishonest messenger. Kinda like blaming all journalism for the failure to inform the masses because some journalists are dishonest and work for the agenda of their evil human masters.
John Doyle / April 4, 2019
As an aside, I saw that Listerine used to make cigarettes too.
Anon / April 4, 2019
Facts and reality stand on their own, immutable and independent of the human experience.
Irrespective of how many people believe in something, or for how many centuries they believe it, such does not convert hope or fantasy into fact. Sorry! It just doesn’t!
But yet, we perceive inter-personal consensus as factual confirmation.
And we’ve a personal craving for experience of something supernatural. An event that could be personal
proof of a realty greater than that of our common experience. So, we’re actually willing victims and participants in mass delusion events, paranormal sightings, illusionist tricks by proselytizers, etc, etc.
Throughout the millennia and without exception,
no god(s), no matter how devoutly worshiped,
have ever intervened to preserve a society from ultimate extinction.
And yet, we never give up inventing yet another religion, while blaming ourselves for our old gods choosing not the save us from our prior apocalypse.
Phil de / April 4, 2019
You’ve really opened up a can of worms here, for all the commenters . So many obviously missed the point about belief in sinning, religious propaganda and advertising. I feel like laughing insanely.
I love your writings and the comments. I was brought up catholic and was an alter boy. I hope the zombie carpenter doesn’t appear in my dreams. And to all the religious nuts: Keep drinking the kool aid.
Anon / April 3, 2019
Once upon a time, …
Sister Mary-Margaret of Holy Names Academy, and Perry Lorenzo of O’Dea High School were having an after-work drink in the nearby Hotel Sorrento bar, … And, as was related to me by Perry, … she observed:, …..
‘ You know Perry, … the Catholic Church has a great racket: …
we figured out everything people wanted to do, …
declared them all “sins”, …
and then sell forgiveness for doing them. ‘
Of course, Catholics don’t have a corner on this “sinner forgiveness” (usually for a price $$) business. Or, acting as self-appointed “divine agents” when it comes to abusing and ripping-off some other group.
Historically, encouraging “responsible” breeding, STD avoidance, and the need for adequate child rearing were all likely recognized as societal benefits early-on, if only by a few astute individuals. Likewise, the adverse health consequences sometimes associated with eating shellfish, pork, or other “unclean animals”.
But, for a horny and often starving population, oscillating around the zero-growth line between extinction or population increase, … and with little or no understanding as to the causation mechanics of these observed societal ills, …
… one astute mortal merely pointing out these matters in a public forum wouldn’t have had much impact.
So, it followed quite naturally that marketing them in a ‘God said’ and ‘sin punishment’ wrapper, backed up by a theocratic hierarchy was the only available way to redirect social behavior.
But, once that power structure was setup and its operators recognized its power, it facilitated their engagement in all sorts of social control, mischief, and institutional-personal enrichment! Everything from ISIS throwing homosexuals off building tops, to executive jets and mansions for televangelists.
Horniron / April 3, 2019
If you are going to write off religion and by implication, a Creator, then maybe you can provide an explanation for the events at Fatima. As a former Catholic, I suppose you are familiar with the event and the possibly 70,000 witnesses. As you may know, this occurred in modern times. What was wrong with those people?
Michael Campbell / April 4, 2019
The explanation for the events at Fatima is essentially the same as the explanation for the Kolinar events at P’Jem.
Both sets of events have an identical epistemic foundation.
Dee Wilder / April 3, 2019
Well thought out and very well written. Thank you!
Rigby / April 3, 2019
Perfect! I hope you are preparing a book of your best pieces – an eBook at least as there’s no limit to the size.
You are a true philosopher. Thanks.
mike k / April 3, 2019
Anything said about “religion” is meaningless. The term has been used in such innumerable ways, that one needs to be much more specific to offer meaningful criticisms. The main stream religions contain a hodgepodge of ideas, some good, some not. One must be selective and discriminating when taking material from religious sources.
In terms of social action, religious perspectives have often been very useful in gathering people’s energies. MLK and Gandhi inspired their followers with religious rhetoric. Sometimes you can find some precious babies along with the plentiful bathwater.
Charlie Beall / April 3, 2019
Caitlin, every institutional religious order rests on immutable principles of intolerance and absolute control, coupled with deeply inculcated articles of faith. The same holds for large-scale human institutions of every ilk. Institutional order, by its nature, is unaccountable and abusive, and always results in the exploitation of the ignorant and weak by the privileged and powerful. Your article, and much of the commentary here, reflects a deep hostility towards something that can’t be known or proven. Attempting to switch the hypothesis and conclusion of a person’s conditional statement of faith, i.e., his hope in things unknown and unproven, serves exactly what constructive purpose? What good is achieved by vilifying a historical figure (‘the carpenter zombie’) whose message was one of love, peace, forgiveness and truth? What threat does that message represent to your reality? Why not focus the righteous anger and contempt on the actual sources of innocent human suffering, including the malignant political ideologies and identity groups whose virulent messages of hatred and intolerance are antithetical to the humble appeal of the Prince of Peace? From the insightful and honest self-reflection demonstrated by most of your writing, I’ll assume it is not your intention to unnecessarily alienate some of your admiring readers. Truth is, none of us knows where we came from or why we are here. What we do know is what we don’t know. Unless I’m mistaken, what you’re effectively saying in this article is that each of us finds certain human behavior repugnant to our individual sense of the correct and natural order of things (from wherever and whatever that sense is derived), while others can rightfully interpret the same behavior as perfectly acceptable. If that’s an accurate interpretation of your words, I now have a clear understanding of your relativist concept of moral certainty. Each of us must decide how to define right and wrong in the context our individual realities. When there is no common understanding of truth, our individual realities become so distorted and obscured by ideological differences that we have no concept of our common purpose or moral obligation to each other.
Anon / April 3, 2019
It is precisely because I admire you and your work that I am compelled to point out this very serious error. I will make some points below; perhaps the main source of error is not distinguishing between core versus external aspects of religions.
– By forming an opinion without thorough investigation, you are falling in the same trap that you rightly admonish others.
– Why would Aldous Huxley (who understood manipulation as well as anyone else), Gandhi (who understood peace as well as anyone else), and many many others accept core religious thought as the ultimate wisdom?
– Everything that is “worldly” corrupts itself and this applies to external aspects of religions as well (this is precisely what “the Fall” is); for every enterprise, the worst enemies of that enterprise also happen to be its self-declared, vociferous proponents.
– The difference between religion and every other enterprise is that in the former case, its “otherworldly” core is pure, incorruptible, unchangeable, infinite (symbolized by Christ in Christianity).
– For a Westerner who has had a negative formative experience with religions, perhaps one could study Buddhism, Taoism, Hinduism, and then see that there is fundamental unity between them and Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (and many other traditions, some of them extinct). A good starting reference is Schuon’s “The Transcendent Unity of Religions”.
– The realization of this fundamental unity is the *only* unifying force that could save the world (and this answers a question that you had raised in a previous post). The fact that 99% of people do not understand what is being said here does not change this truth.
Again, these are most sincere comments from a fellow truth-seeker. Even though you are clearly trying to align yourself with truth and the positive force, by denying the Eternal Wisdom, you would only end up being aligned with the negative force.
Maxim Gorki / April 3, 2019
God is a made up marketing scheme. It’s weird though. Even though I know he doesn’t exist, I still scream and curse at Him, and refer to Him using capital letters. We’re all insane.
Deborah Armstrong / April 3, 2019
I grew up in a strict fundamentalist cult that was founded by my own uncle, Herbert W. Armstrong. He was a big name back in the 80’s and 70’s all the way back to the 30’s when, as a failed “Mad Man” from the advertising industry, he used all his knowledge of advertising and manipulation to found his church. He was very good at this. He had several publications; the best known one was “The Plain Truth” magazine which was aimed at non-members and analyzed world events from a religious perspective. He also had a TV show called “The World Tomorrow” in which he did the same thing for half an hour every week. Toward the end of his life, it almost seems that he believed his own bullshit. There’s no question to me that he was a narcissist. He used to brag to me that his suits were made by Ronald Reagan’s tailor. He lived in a fine house, a small mansion really, and it was decorated with expensive and rare art. His table had gold salt cellars in the shape of rearing horses made in the 17th century. He had plates in his china cabinet that once belonged to Russia’s last Tsar. There was silk wallpaper and a Steinway piano and many awards and medals he had been given by world leaders. He flew around the world in his Gulf Stream jets and bestowed generous donations in the name of “world peace” and in exchange he would get a photograph of himself meeting people like Nancy Reagan, Margaret Thatcher or Queen Sirikit of Thailand (who came and stayed at his mansion and visited his college campus for a week with her royal entourage). ALL of this was paid for by the members of the church, who were told to tithe more than 30% of their money “because God said so” and God’s latter day Apostle just happened to be my Uncle Herbert.
I finally got out of this organization in my 20’s, after they sent me to the USSR where I lived during it’s “collapse” (more like it was dissolved, really). I woke up to my uncle’s manipulations. But it was many years before I woke up to the manipulations of our government and our politicians. It seems to be a lifelong process, which happens in spurts, at least for me. It may be different for others. Smoking cannabis definitely helped me. No wonder it was thought of as a “sin” in our church (as was eating pork or shellfish, wearing makeup, women in leadership positions, homosexuality and a variety of other things). Thinking and feeling were also frowned upon.
Great job as usual, Caity.
LSJohn / April 3, 2019
I remember Herb W. and Garner Ted. My father had a relatively brief fling with them. It almost destroyed my parents’ marriage, but both hung on until he somehow withdrew.
Deborah Armstrong / April 3, 2019
Glad they got out!
Ron Campbell / April 3, 2019
Ms Johnstone that was Magnificent!!! It put goose bumps on both of my arms and sent shivers through my spine!! I remember well the experience that ran me from the catholic church!! My grandmother made award-winning apple and blueberry pies! As a child I would endure beatings just to eat any amount of those wonderful pies!! Every now and then my grandmother would bake a pie and order me to deliver it to the church rectory. Usually I brought it to the door and left, but this time I was asked to wait in an alcove for a letter I was to bring back. What I heard and seen made me aware that ” the priesthood ” was a shame and I never went to mass again. Weddings and funerals brought me to churches from then on; never masses!!
Again this post is Magnificent!!
Ishkabibble / April 3, 2019
The day you are born you are completely dependent upon your parents and remain so for quite a number of years. Essentially, you look to your parents to train you to be a person that fits into the local Matirx into which your parents been raised.
The local Matrix is all-powerful. Everything from language (sounds that come out of mouths) to religious behavior, including thinking, is determined by that local Matrix.
What is good behavior; what is bad behavior and what prevents people from behaving badly?
God did not create human beings. Human beings created a non-existent God and non-existent sins in order to control social behavior. Santa and God are both watching and judging you 24/7, some parents tell their children, so for goodness sake be good! God keeps a great big book in which he jots down the behavior of 7+ billion of those in his flock. You can’t escape His gaze.
Becasue the local Matrix is all-powerful, a human being born into it can be made to believe in literally anything — that the earth is flat or a sphere, or that only Americans should run the world because they are exceptional human beings that can commit no sin or crime.
Under the right circumstances, pieces of cloth with certain patterns sewn into them can be made into demi-Gods to be worshiped. For example,
I pledge Allegiance to the flag
of the United States of America
and to the Republic for which it stands,
one nation under God, indivisible,
with Liberty and Justice for all.
How much of the above is “true”? Allegiance to a flag — a piece of cloth? Republic? Under God? Indivisible? Liberty and justice for all? Repeat it every day you are in public school in the US and you might actually think it describes reality. It doesn’t.
This is how we live. We live in a sea of bullshit and occasionally run into something which is not bullshit. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Is that bullshit, too? Is that “religious” concept or is it the Golden Rule that MUST guide human existence no matter WHAT else you believe?
davehaze / April 3, 2019
The same with hell. Telling a child that he/she will burn in hell for eternity for misbehaving, for “sinning,” is child abuse. The shameful behavior is from adults who perpetrate this massive, manipulative lie and fantasy, a false construct Christianity picked up from misconstruing pagan mythology. Misconstruing
Leonard Michael Ross / April 3, 2019
I admire your work on this blog and your prescient commentaries concerning the disaster that is current politics and the MSM mirage that is generally imperialist propaganda in “liberal’ clothing. However, it is my belief that this article does not measure to your usual high calibre of work. The arguments you marshal against religion are “straw man” attacks based upon Catholic parochial school rudimentary teachings that were the meant for children and not adults; it would be like critiquing Das Kapital using your grammar school civics and history primer. A lot gets left out obviously because the quality of the materials critiquing the issue are not even slightly commensurate. If you want to make an argument that religion is a mere social construction you should at least review classical and contemporary moral and social theology rather than the Baltimore Catechism. The milk bottle illustration of grace versus sin, which you obliquely refer to, was not meant as the apex of Catholic Christian teaching on the matter but a heuristic device geared towards children. Since you have an obvious interest in social justice my suggestion is that you read Jose Porfireo Miranda’s “Marx and the Bible” (Orbis Press) which is a Liberation Theologian’s exegesis of the Hebrew Scriptures and New Testament that covers social and institutional “sin” and how bourgeois theology and secular social studies miss the radical meaning of the “Bible” to prop up their ideological roots in capitalist society. I know you are busy but its well worth a read. Thank you for your voice and “blows against the Empire”.
Karl Hildenbrand / April 3, 2019
Love it, Caitlin! Keep it up!
K V Ramani / April 3, 2019
Parts of this article about advertisement and propaganda resonate with me. But calling Jesus a Nazarene zombie and imaginary zombie carpenter is uncalled for. One could be candid in sharing one’s views without being crude or insulting.
If it is impossible to prove, 2,000 years down the road, that Jesus was the son of god and performed the miracles attributed to him, it is just as impossible to disprove them. By all accounts, he was an ascetic, selfless person who sought no material wealth or power through publicity and propaganda. The system he rebelled against was a rotten system worth upending. The people he brought comfort to were in need of someone like him, else they wouldn’t have followed him in such large numbers. If the same people distorted them for their own ends eventually, the shame is theirs. So what if he did not rise from his grave?
As a lifelong agnostic, I don’t believe religion is essential to sense the existence of a supreme universal force. However, it would be ignorant of me to dismiss the fact billions around the world believe in one religion or another as a grounding in morals. Rich and poor alike find comfort in religion when they are in distress. If they pray to their god, they are just being human. As Gandhi said, “Praying is not asking. It is a longing of the soul.”
Disbelief in religion does not give me a license to sneer at another human who longs for divine intervention when all other avenues are closed. Such an intervention may or may not come about. But that person finds relief in the very act of seeking its. I must be utterly insensitive and callous to mock him/her in the name of asserting my skepticism or intellectual superiority.
You have discredited yourself with this uncontrolled outburst.
Carolyn Zaremba / April 3, 2019
I am an atheist and mocking religion is entirely appropriate. The fact that a large part of the human race is still controlled by primitive superstition is something that I find appalling. I’m with Caitlin on this.
K V Ramani / April 3, 2019
Then you must have the courage of your conviction to distance yourself from all those who are enthralled by such primitive superstition. Not in the abstract but in the daily walk of life by refusing to deal with their products, services and social interactions.
I don’t mean this as a taunt, only to point out the impossibility of holding fast to one’s conviction while having to deal with others who are driven by opposing convictions. We don’t live in societies neatly segregated into self-reliant believers and disbelievers. Both sides tolerate one another because the alternative is to cut off one’s nose to spite one’s face.
One day, science will advance sufficiently to make people realize religion is a human construct, abused over the centuries as a tool for mass manipulation. We can help it move along only through reasoning and persuasion. Not through mockery and trivialization.
Michael Campbell / April 4, 2019
WHO IN THE WOTRLD made this “rule” up that one is obligated to distance oneself from and “refuse to deal with” the products and services that come from people who hold views one opposes or finds asinine, pitiful, reprehensible, or pathetically comical….?
Cause I personally didn’t hear the call for the Rules Committee to enact this emergency concoction — and if I didn’t get a vote on this “Rule”, …well, you don’t either.
That thar is a little bit of made-up horse poop, …what it is.
AS IF one has to parse out the belief systems of one’s brain surgeon or ones vegetable farmer or banker or diamond broker before utilizing their products & services.. As if one cannot schedule surgery or buy a cabbage open a new account or pop The Question to the Little Significan Other until one holds a humane and genuine respect for the metaphysical views of the person supplying that product or service, ….regardless of how whacked they be.
Now, one is, of course, free to find Caitlin’s approach off-putting and certainly one can tell her so….but one can NOT pull out of thin air (or wherever) the hogwash “Rule” that one must refrain from the products & services of those who hold views he or she not only doesn’t hold but also doesn’t respect, or perhaps despises. By the way, not respecting someone’s metaphysical views, even finding those views pitiable, is not the same thing as not respecting the other person’s right to choose those asinine views if they wish.
Yep, …I think that thar is, I’m purtty sure, an infraction…pulling a made-up “Rule” like that out of a body orifice without due warning.
Julia Lerner / April 3, 2019
The ridiculing of an idea and exposition on the harm it can cause need not be taken as a personal insult to the people who were raised to believe in that idea. Your ideas are not you, since people change their beliefs all the time when those ideas prove to be without merit or usefulness. Religion may indeed provide comfort to many of its adherents but that is exactly why it is such a great tool of manipulation, since people will do anything to protect that comfort when their religious leaders tell them that in order to keep that comfortable feeling, they must support wars against people who pray to the same god in a different language and give their money to the church leaders and oppress any members of the congregation who reveal the misdeeds of those church leaders and frighten their children into obedience to all authority figures with threats of eternal hell fire even when those leaders do not deserve their unquestioning obedience. Just as wanting to be popular is not a bad thing in and of itself. It is just a powerful motive that makes people easy to manipulate into doing things that are against their best interests and those of their friends and family and community when bullies use those social needs to create an environment of fascism and bullying and general group-think among people who are terrified of being shunned by those who are more popular. In each case, it is those few who were born without conscience who pull the strings on those who do care and are willing to live in fear of reprisals for stepping out of line.
Charles Robinson / April 3, 2019
A cat and a crow get it. We can too.
And you know, most people do get it, are kind and compassionate to others in need; that is, until the Elite’s propaganda – be it religious, public schools or any other XYZ programing kicks in.
JM / April 4, 2019
That was such a sweet video. Thank you for sharing it! 🙂
kev / April 3, 2019
To be fair Jesus (Who was probably a nice guy) isnt a zomby because he only came back in “sprit form”
Now when he comes back as the son of man on a cloud announced by angels blowing trumpets he will be a zombie, but by that time we will all be zombies – and people like cathleen will be really really surprised – dont say i didnt warn you …
Michael Campbell / April 4, 2019
It’s not my myth, but I do believe that the assertion is — specifically — that Jesus was resurrected BODILY, and therefore his tomb was reported to be empty,
Also, the issue is dealt with directly in John 20:27, which tells us that Jesus said this to Thomas who DOUBTED that he was in the presence of the resurrected dead man he knew as Jesus.(right, right, …THAT Thomas, ..Doubting Thomas !!! !)
“Then saith he to Thomas, Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands; and reach hither thy hand, and thrust it into my side: and be not faithless, but believing.”
~ John 20:27 , King James Ver.sion.
RC-Garrs / April 3, 2019
I see from some of the posts in this thread there are ppl so totally brainwashed and have sealed their skulls shut, that they no longer think for themselves or look at the universe as it really exists. They are no longer human; they are just subjects,
I feel sorry for them as they’re not likely to realize, upon death – it’s over.
Ken / April 3, 2019
It’s over at death? That’s just another belief, another concept. But neither you or anyone else KNOWS death is the end. So why arrogantly condemn people for believing what they don’t KNOW when you believe what you don’t, and can’t, KNOW? Do you KNOW that you look at the universe as it REALLY exists? How do you know? Maybe I’m wrong, but it sounds like you’re brainwashed by the evidence of your physical senses and/or assumptions materialistic science preaches from its pulpits. The fact is, there is zero evidence that death is the end of life, or consciousness, or the awareness of existence.
RC-Garrs / April 3, 2019
Contact me after you die and we will further discuss what happens after death.
BTW – I see the universe as I observe it.
As I live, I’ve never had, nor observed, real experiences that are described in fairytales.
I do believe in gravity. Challenge it if you will.
Ken / April 4, 2019
There’s a fundamental difference, so I’ll finish off with this. If I don’t KNOW something to be true, I don’t pretend to know it’s true and preach to others that my BELIEFS are the correct one (while decrying others for their having their beliefs). I don’t know what happens at or after death. I don’t know if we live or if it’s the end. So I tell people I don’t know. It just gets old hearing those who don’t know pretend they do know. They’re no different than the preachers of fairy tail b.s. – they don’t know, but they pretend they know as they preach to others. Everyone is free to believe what they want. It’s those who preach their beliefs as if they know what they’re talking about that I enjoy challenging. I just like hearing an honest “I don’t know” then arrogant, condescending believers in whatever it is posture themselves as though they know what truth is when they’re like all the other preachers of fairy tales: ignorant, but acting like they know.
This is a Chinese proverb called “The Four People.”
(1) He who knows and knows not that he knows. He is asleep; wake him.
(2) He who knows not and knows not that he knows not. He deceives himself; wait for him.
(3) He who knows not and knows that he knows not. He is a child; teach him.
(4)He who knows and knows that he knows. He is a king; follow him.
Have a good life.
RC-Garrs / April 4, 2019
I am not without belief.
I believe we get re-atomized when we die. I see this as I see all universal entropy.
To think there is a soul is wistful, to say the least. Another fairytale if you will.
Believe or not believe as anybody wants.
Just don’t shove it down my throat. Keep it out of government.
Granville Stout / April 3, 2019
To all the god botherers on here. The bible was written by people who thought the earth was flat, they believed that the sun revolved around the earth. We know a lot better now, or should.
LSJohn / April 3, 2019
“The only exception to this would perhaps be sociopaths and psychopaths and people with other severe personality disorders…”
Political “leaders,” right? (I’ll leave CEOs and religious “leaders” aside for now.)
You’ve unnecessarily touched a nerve with the zombie riff. Detrimental to our purpose. Heads don’t do well with brick walls.
Luz Milagros MamaWolf / April 3, 2019
Truth! I choose beauty, a healthy environment & cooperation in my movie.
You are brilliant. Shine on.
junghi lee / April 3, 2019
know yourself and understand your enemy. you will win every time. — some chinese wiseguy
Kathleen / April 3, 2019
I have started several comments to this article and deleted them and started again. I just don’t know what to say other than sorry you are so filled with anger and are without hope. You seem to be woefully unresearched while full of unsubstantiated opinion and caustic comments. No wonder you come acrossed as someone who would be “too much emotion” for an evening of conversation with friends. Do yourself a favor, read the Bible and put energy into proving it wrong through research instead of angry opinions. Your unfortunate religious experience does not make a Global and Timeless Truth. You are a researcher…………. go Research. Nazarene Zombie? Really? Tsk Tsk.
junghi lee / April 3, 2019
why bother to “prove” anything in the Bible when the Bible is about faith not proof? your fake religiosity shows.
Kathleen / April 3, 2019
Oh, and one more thing. They may not have had the word “halitosis” in the 1800’s and before but rotting unbrushed teeth smelled bad then and smell bad now. Advertisers? The Apostles of the remedy for Halitosis and God bless them. Wonder what the purpose of perfume was? Perhaps body odor? Archeologists found evidence of a perfume factory in Cypress dating to 2000 B.C. Whether they called it body odor or just plain Stink, Stank, Stunk! I am sure customers who purchased it knew the why and what for. And the shop purveyors? Apostles who gave remedy to a olfactory “missing the mark.” Gonna have to beg to differ with you on this one. Sin is the halitosis of man.
LSJohn / April 3, 2019
Surely you’ll agree that virgin birth and rising from the dead are extraordinary. I’m also sure you’ve heard what extraordinary claims require. Challenging for proof of the negative is bass-ackward.
Catherine Mickus / April 3, 2019
Hi Caitlin, great article. As relevant as ever. I do think you may be over optimistic when you say that humanity is vomiting religion from its dna. No such luck, I fear. Religion is alive and well and poisoning the lives of billions of people. people are still stoned to death, flogged and lynched in the name of religion. Gay children are still « reprogrammed ». Entire groups undergo ethnic cleansing, all in the name of God. The Middle Ages never ended, really.
Carolyn Zaremba / April 3, 2019
You are a etruly backward human being. Most educated people have studied the history of religions, including reading the Christian Bible. I was brought up an atheist and remain one. There is no such thing as god, the bible was written by human beings and largely made up, there is no afterlife, etc. You get one life. Make good with it. When it’s over, it’s over and you are gone.
Gret Greason / April 8, 2019
What a sad existence for you, Carolyn.
Gary / April 3, 2019
It could be (falsely) argued that dukkha & moksha & compassionate empathic concern & reciprocal altruism & sociopathy & psychopathology are only “made-up bullshit concepts.” RE “sin & sanctity”: watch out to not throw out the baby with the bath.
Warren / April 3, 2019
I see you noticed that religion, like so many other manipulative schemes which are man made are all BS for someone else’s gain. People have fallen for it and even try to defend it if it is challenged
Reader John / April 3, 2019
Sorry your only experience of religion was toxic.
LSJohn / April 3, 2019
It’s not necessary to have toxic experience to notice how harmful it can be to teach people to believe on the basis of faith rather than evidence. What percentage of Republicans, Democrats, conservatives and liberals would you say have solid evidentiary basis for their political certainties?
John / April 3, 2019
I really love your work, but you are wrong about that. I’m not even going to read this one because it would be a waste of time. Did you write this one because of a comment some days or weeks ago affirming the truth of Christianity?
Except for something like this, keep up the great work. Saw some of your statements shown in some of Jimmy Dore’s videos lately on YT.
Bert Schwitters / April 3, 2019
Hi Caitlin, indeed, “sin” as everyone understands it today doesn’t exist in the religious sense. In the New Testament, the Greek word for “sin” is “hamartanoo,” which means “missing the mark.” So, has nothing to do with murder, theft, genocide or bad breath. It’s a personal thing, in that when you “sin” in the religious or psychological sense, you’re missing (not connecting with) your truest Self. Whether that truest Self, the Mark, is Divine or somehow embedded in large-brained primates, that for us “marks(wo)men to find out.
John / April 3, 2019
You are totally wrong there. “Missing the mark” pertains to “falling short,” e.g. “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” The standard of “measurement” is God Himself (yes, He is a Him). God is personally the only true and even possible objective basis for morality, and all morality is defined with reference to Him.
I’m just telling you the truth, but don’t think I don’t know what to normally expect in reply. All of us were where you are at one time or another. In fact you’ll probably even be a rank amateur compared to how some of us used to speak against this truth.
Rowan Bircumshaw / April 3, 2019
I think you may find that another interpretation of harmatanoo – missing the mark is that of, ‘you made a mistake’, so the object being, you learn from that and don’t make the same mistake again. Give us your proofs of the literal truth of the Bible, John. I look forward to following the links that you will post,