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Thursday
Jan032008

A Few Soft Words About the Transcendent

Although Eagleton addresses the subject very eloquently, leaving little to add, I am still nonplussed at how even highly educated and respected opponents of faith still think of religion as a bunch of Believers chanting, making sacrifices and saying how the Lord has led them onto the path of righteousness.   They will deny this, but they hardly distinguish between fundamentalists, or to use a less–scorned term, people who take the holy books literally although they can barely read much less interpret them, and the great scholars and artists of all periods of human existence.  This is the equivalent of equating a port–a–potty, a small, limited, and purely functional thing that provides immediate and consistent relief, with the Taj Mahal.

Morals have not changed, but since science has made our lives easier it leads some to think that morals are antiquated.  Yet morals by definition cannot be antiquated.  Customs may be antiquated and immoral, but morals are unalterable codes of conduct, and one would do well not to confuse practice with ideal morality (usually, as it were, quite distinct entities).  So one does not know, in fact, that the tribesmen are anachronistic and wrong; their wickiups and primal chants may seem backward although it's very likely that they believed in the same things we do.  They simply have a less 'modern' switchboard – that is, something that can appeal directly to our sense of space and function – for conducting operations.  And while religion may be comforting to the poor who seek redemption for their hardscrabble lives, religion to the privileged (we count ourselves among them, by the way) is the opposite of comfort, it is about responsibility, because it tags each of our actions with consequences.  On the contrary, it is atheism or agnosticism that provides comfort by suggesting there is nothing to be worried about since it all is too complex or not yet discovered.  Here are the tenets of their unfaith:

1) There is nothing worth knowing 'for the present time,' but when there will be, it surely will appear in bold newspaper headlines everywhere.  Not only that, once all or part of the truth is revealed, it will be immediately comprehensible to everyone, regardless of training, education, rigorous thinking processes, faith, language, or intelligence. 

2) If we can disprove one little facet of any theory by stating that it is not universally held, we can whittle down the work of thousands of artists, scholars, and thinkers over the centuries, into confirming that we really know nothing at all.  Morals are the product of necessity because governments punish crimes and no one, as far as is known to us, has ever abstained from a crime he could have gotten away with.

3) Since science tells us a toaster will toast bread, and that is the normal outcome of using such an instrument, science has made progress.  Pithecanthropus did not have a toaster, nor for that matter, an oven to bake grain, and obviously concluded that when he ate a mango, it was at the grace and mercy of the mango god Frutita.

4) Science also has no explanation for how and why we came to be here.  Strange how quick they are to dismiss any spiritual beliefs that are not universally agreed upon, but the disputes among physicists and astronomers are seen as polite humbug and oneupmanship. 

5) Religion is basically a bunch of people who do not want to be responsible for their actions and therefore blame (and, occasionally, even thank) a Higher Being for the events in their lives.  Their faith is a total sham from beginning to end that involves brainwashing, the quoting of old and indecipherable collections of fairy tales, the punishment of those who do not adhere, and a general smugness that their path is the broad band of destiny.  When they really don’t like someone, they massacre them and claim it to be God’s will.

6) Religion does not involve any of the following: original thought, doubt, scepticism, debate, research, learning, interpretation, concern, investigation, and artistic merit.  In addition, while believing in God makes sense to some quaint degree, it is very puzzling that anyone nowadays would still believe in Jesus Christ.  After all, he died almost two thousand years ago, and those were different times: the Jews were in Israel, a Latin-based language was the lingua franca of Europe, the Middle East was in turmoil, and sharks patrolled the Red Sea.  Jesus is a product of his time much like, say, Elvis Presley.  Elvis is dead, so we need to get over it and stop pretending he’s hiding out somewhere in Nevada.

7) The best and really, let us be honest, the only way to be sure of anything is to touch, smell, hear, taste, or see it.  Otherwise, it cannot be vouched for and should be readily discarded.  Love, friendship, hope, optimism, curiosity, pride, shame, pity, doubt – all these things only exist insofar as we can sense them.  For example, I express my friendship to another person by calling her my friend, supporting her decisions and being there when something troubles her.  It would be unfathomable that I could also love, pity, or be proud of her, often when she is not there, and often when I have no one to whom to show these emotions except myself.  That is not friendship, but a trick I use to convince myself that I am needed by other people and therefore have a reason to get up in the morning.  It also lets me think of myself as a good and righteous human being who is living in truth, who is justified in his distinctions of right from wrong, and who therefore may be accorded a certain authority in speaking or writing about life and its events.  I do this all for selfish reasons because everything we do is for selfish reasons.  That is the law of the jungle and we are simply its most evolved members.

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