Saturday, February 20, 2021

On Matters of Faith

Qanonsense has one redeeming feature - it illustrates the fallacy of faith.

A reader writes that an earlier posting about "Don't Care" is an insult to his Christian Faith.  That is the neat Catch-22 the faithful can use against us as a cudgel.  While we may not believe in their faith and may in fact find it as ridiculous as Qanonsense, we have to respect their beliefs.  The Muslims have made a good game of this - threatening to kill anyone who even questions their religion and sadly, a lot of people going along with this - willing to mock any belief system except Islam, which is "off-limits" because, you know, they get upset.

Sadly, others are signing on to this scheme as well,  Hindus in India have jailed a comedian because he might tell a joke about Hinduism, although he hasn't told the joke yet.  In Thailand, it is a crime to criticize the king.  And so on and so forth.  Free speech is free, unless it pisses someone off, in which case, they are justified in jailing you or even killing you.  Talk about cancel culture!

But faith can be wrong. In fact, most faiths stipulate that all other faiths are wrong. Thus, it is a mathematical certainty that, if you believe in faith, then all the other faiths are wrong and only one true faith is right. You just have to hope that the true faith that you believe in is in fact the true faith.  Then you have to ask yourself, why are all those other people believing in the wrong one?

We are chastised for not respecting the faith of others, yet the central premise that most faiths is at the other faiths are in fact wrong and in fact, heresy.  Muslims criticize the West for disrespecting Islam by publishing cartoons of Mohammed. Yet Sunnis and Shiites are quite ready to go to war with each other -  and in fact have been involved in a bloody war with each other for hundreds of years and even today - over matters of faith.  Protestants and Catholics aren't much better.

There was an interesting article recently that opined that Qanonsense may be in the process of morphing into a religion.  It has all the aspects of a religion - a mysterious leader, some impenetrable texts which can be interpreted a number of ways, and of course, a legion of blind followers.  It checks off all the boxes.  Well, except for one - they haven't asked for money, yet.

Qanonsense illustrates the folly of belief and faith - that the premise cannot be questioned, and that people are quite literally willing to kill or commit other acts of violence in furtherance of the cause.  It isn't far off from Branch Davidians, Jonestown, or the Manson family.  People suspend disbelief in order to believe, and if you think about it, that is kind of a prerequisite to belief.

There are some who claim that Scientology arose out of a bet or a discussion between some science fiction authors that they could literally create a religion out of whole cloth.  Heinlein sort of hints at this in the novella If This Goes On... where the false religion of the "Prophet Incarnate" is foiled by a Masonic-like quasi-religion that doesn't challenge the Prophet directly, but discretely undermines his teachings.

The funny thing about Scientology is that it cloaks itself in the garments of science, claiming to be a "science of the mind" and yet is the result of the teachings of one man who wrote a book.  The doctrine, unlike real science, is not up for discussion, testing, and revision, but rather must be taken on blind faith.  Pretty neat trick, when you think about it - claiming a religion is science and vice-versa.

And like every other religion before it, its detractors accuse it of abuses of one sort of another, if nothing else, asking for a big chunk of your money and trying to control your life.  Sounds like a real religion to me!

I noted before that religion is a neat way of controlling people.  Religion and debt get the plebes out of bed in the morning and on their way to work.  It keeps people pliable and obedient - and thinking they are part of some greater scheme or greater plan - in service of a higher power.  Like the mysterious "Q" for example.   Qanonsense isn't morphing into a religion, it already is one.  And like any other religion it is manipulating people to do things against their own interests - and in the interests of Vladimir Putin.

This is not to say religion is always bad - it just usually is.  Early on in the colonization of this country, religion was used to unite people with a common goal.  The Bible was often cited as justification for what people were doing - manifest destiny!  Slavery!  It's all in the Bible!  We are doing God's will!

We were destined, as Christians, to settle this continent and "convert the heathens" - and if they didn't see reason, kill them off.  Within 100 years or so, small towns sprung up, each with a town square that centrally featured a church.  The church was a primary source of guidance, inspiration, and even governance.

The Spanish knew this - setting out friars to build "missions" to convert the natives and also serve as a seed for later settlement and trade.  The French were pretty much the same.  It wasn't something limited to the English.  And maybe this use of religion was necessary for people to do things that ordinarily they would be considered abhorrent - taking land away from the natives and moving them Westward or slaughtering them.  Or enslaving blacks - the Bible was also used to justify that.

So it is understandable why some claim the US is a "Christian Nation" as our country used religion as part of the overall technique of colonizing the land.  It is only later that we became ecumenical land, although Jews were arguably here early on.  

But what happens if someone has no beliefs?  That is a scary thought for many of the faithful - and for many of the rest of us.  I mean, this is real red-pill stuff.  If you believe in nothing but yourself then everyone else is just something to be used for your own advantage.  The rest of us are wallpaper to such folks - folks we call sociopaths.

Most of us have a code of ethics we live by - the things we do when no one is looking.   For example, a few years ago, I found a wallet in the middle of the road.  A guy was getting gas and put his wallet on the roof of his car and drove off.  I looked through the wallet and found a business card and called the number. The person who answered had the cell phone of the owner of the wallet and within half-hour, I had reunited the lost wallet with its owner.

Why do this?  Arguably it would make more sense to keep the money in the wallet and throw the rest away - or even sell the credit cards to some shady character downtown.  But I felt that if the situation were reversed, I would want someone to do the same for me - and in the past, people have done just that.  Do unto others... - the golden rule, which isn't in the Bible, by the way (but "eye for an eye" is!). It is an idea that overall civilization is better off if each of us treats others the way we would like to be treated.  It doesn't always work, but if enough people do it, it is like herd immunity.

On the other hand, I went out of my way to return this fellow's wallet because I could afford to.  If I was some homeless bum who hadn't eaten in two days (or more likely, needed a fix of drugs or booze) I would have been more likely to spend the money.  The veneer of civilization is awfully thin, which is why we revert to a feral state when our blood sugar gets low.  A man who hasn't eaten in a few days is willing to do almost anything, morals or no morals.  You'd be surprised at what you'd do.

But imminent starvation aside, what about others? There are people in the world who have no compunction in steamrolling over others in order to get what they want - and in fact, they often will cite their "faith" as compelling them to do so.  I am successful in life, ergo God likes me best - thus anything I do is right.   The robber-barons of the 19th century (or indeed, any century) used this logic.  The poor? The workers?  Too bad for them - they must have pissed-off God, somehow, probably by going to the "wrong" church.

Therein lies the problem with faith.  Faith can be used to excuse all sorts of bad behavior.  And the "good" that comes of faith is usually outweighed, ten-to-one by the bad.  Granted, an utter lack of faith can be used to excuse bad behavior - the sociopath merely says, "what's in it for me?" and takes what he wants, consequences to a greater society be damned.   But the faithful often does the same thing and justifies it (in their own minds) as "God's will be done!" which in a way is even worse.  At least the Sociopath is being honest in a twisted sort of way.  But again, maybe faith is a way for our brains to justify us doing horrible things sometimes, so that we do these things for society to survive - such as going to war.  Perhaps.

I disagree with the notion that lack of faith or belief means one has no moral compass.  The golden rule, for example, pre-dates most Western religions, which indicates that the idea of morality predates many, if not all, religions.   Moses, Jesus, or Mohammed do not have a monopoly on righteous thinking.

I have mentioned before that doing things that are not necessarily in your direct best interest may often, in the long-run, be in your best interest.  For example, while accumulation of wealth may seem like a swell deal, if the "1%" accumulate so much wealth, it could backfire in two significant ways.  First, if the lower classes have no money left to buy the products you are selling, the entire economy could collapse.  Second, if people become too destitute you may have a revolution on your hands and end up deposed.  Remember what I said about hungry people - they will resort to anything.

It is like our school taxes.  When I turn 65, I no longer have to pay school tax here in Georgia.  I have mixed feelings about this.  I have friends who have opined they should never have to pay school taxes as they have no children!   But as I tell them, it is in your best interests to have kids go to school.  They become educated, get jobs, pay taxes, and contribute to the economy.  They are less likely to stick a gun in your face and demand money.  Even if you don't have children of your own, you benefit - indirectly - from public school education (in addition to the fact you received one yourself).

But you have to have faith to believe that.  Aha!  I knew this was going somewhere!  Faith is the ability to believe in things that are unseen.  And "giving back" to society is one of these unseen things. You pay your school taxes and you don't see an immediate benefit to you - but a greater unseen benefit is made to society.  You turn in a wallet you found so the owner gets it back - no benefit to you, but if everyone did this, the world is a better place.  When you come to a construction zone, you take turns merging, instead of cutting everyone off.  Traffic flows more smoothly as a result.  It doesn't appear that way at first and some never see it.  But it is true.

Sadly, some will use faith in the opposite way.  They find a wallet on the beach and think, "This is a windfall from God! I have prayed for a miracle, and here it is!"  They use sharp business practice go get ahead and justify their actions by thinking, "God must be smiling favorably upon me for my business to be successful!  Hiring those union-busting goons was his will be done!"   You can use faith to justify anything, if you put your mind to it.

And it seems that today, so many are willing to use faith in this evil way - to justify everything from misogyny (and Gee Whiz, the Bible is chock full of that, ain't it?) to white supremacy to antisemitism to terrorism.  And a lot of these "new" faiths seem to be little more than evil.  What good ever became of the Branch Davidians - even assuming the Waco fire and ambush never took place?  Was there an upside to Jonestown?  Is Scientology really helping people or just making them really creepy?  And what is the upside to Qanonsense?  It seems to be destroying both personal lives and civilization itself.

Even traditional religions these days seem to be in self-destruct mode. The Catholic church is being torn apart from within - not because of pedophile priest accusations - but because those on the far-right and far-left cannot agree on a direction the church should go in.  Each used the faith to justify their actions, whether it is Opus Dei or liberation theologians.  Lutherans are splitting over things like ordaining women as ministers.  Of course, that is part and parcel of the problem with faith - since it is supposedly unchanging, it is always threatened by change.

I think there is a middle ground here - or I believe there is. You don't need an organized religion or dogma to get along in the world - and the world doesn't need one, either.  But that is not to say that without faith you are without any sort of values or beliefs, whatsoever.

And it goes without saying that if you take faith so seriously that you are willing to kill others over it, something isn't right.  If you are "offended" because someone questions your faith, well then, maybe your faith isn't all that strong.   I think the real threat to the world isn't the faithful, but those that are not sure of their faith, and as a result, have to lash out at others to "prove" their faith.

That's the real evil, right there.