Sunday, November 19, 2023

Training Wheels Of Belief (Trail Of Breadcrumbs)

Christianity is unique among world religions in that it has secular mythologies that parallel the religious ones.  Is this some sort of hidden message?

When I was a young child growing up, I believed, for a very brief period, in the mythology of Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy and whatnot.  Actually, I am not sure if I ever was a believer, as most of my older friends disabused me of these notions early on. Quite frankly, I don't remember much before age four - except a few things.

But once we learn that the whole concept of Santa is false, a child naturally wonders whether other mythologies based on belief are also false.  Santa has supernatural powers and can deliver presents to billions of children in just one night.  He flies through the air and lives in "The North Pole" which, like the clouds of "heaven" have been reached and explored and found to have no reindeer or angels.  Santa also has Godlike powers of observation and monitoring that would make the NSA envious.  He know who has been "naughty or nice" but sadly the limits of his reprobation repertoire to a sock full of coal.  He cannot damn you to the eternal lake of fire (can you water-ski on that?).

So we learn this one set of beliefs is just made-up.  It doesn't take a rocket scientist or indeed, even a curious 7-year-old to make the connection that maybe other belief systems are largely made-up as well, particularly when they involve incredulous things that cannot be tested or quantified.

Actually, I did try to test the Santa myth, even as I knew it was false.  I set a pressure switch (from my Lionel train set) under the Christmas tree, to activate a red light in the living room window (which I could see from my bedroom over the garage) to alert me that presents were placed under the tree.  Sadly, my home-made Santa detector was either discovered or I fell asleep too soon, so I was never able to complete the experiment.  Nevertheless, confessions from the parties involved (induced by the use of liquor) later on in life, confirmed my hypotheses - there was no Santa, just parents.

And of course, this made me trust my parents even less - I already knew they were unreliable narrators at best or whacked-out alcoholics at worst.  But over the years, I started to wonder whether these childhood myths were just training wheels for religious beliefs.  Moreover, society was subtly signaling that belief, while beautiful and fantastical, should not be taken too seriously.

Robert Heinlein, who may or may not be a Libertarian or a Fascist, once opined on belief:

"Whenever the locals rub blue mud in their navels, I rub blue mud in mine just as solemnly."  --Lazarus Long, Time Enough For Love

In other words, it never pays to dispute the local religion, even if you don't believe in it.  Better off to pretend to believe or better yet, obtain a position of power in that religion, than to be branded as an apostate or heretic and burned at the stake.

Interestingly, as far as I know, Christianity is unique among the major world religions in having these parallel religious holiday beliefs.  Islam does not have a Santa Claus or Easter Bunny doppelganger to allow for secular celebration of religious holidays.  Indeed, I assume such things would be haram.  I am not sure Judaism has any such parallel holiday-makers, either.  Perhaps Christians, at least more modern and moderate ones, are not so serious about the details of belief.

Thomas Jefferson, I believe, was the one who said, "Religion, like all things, in moderation"  - or was it Benjamin Franklin?  You know, those founding fathers who established our Christofascist empire that is being attacked by wokism.  TJ himself cut up his Holy Bible and pasted "the good parts" in his own homegrown "Jefferson Bible."  Apparently he didn't believe "every word" of the Bible, as some modern evangelicals claim to do (not having read the whole thing or realizing that the Bible contradicts itself again and again, making it literally impossible to believe "every word" of it).

So maybe, modern Christianity developed these secular holidays and secular actors to leave a trail of breadcrumbs for smarter people to notice - with a wink and a nod - that belief is not to be taken too seriously.  But why not renounce belief entirely?  Why not just come out and say that a collection of stories from ages gone by, from people who wiped their ass with their hands and wore sheets as clothing, was just a bunch of made-up bullshit handed down through the ages?

Why not?  Well, I think it is because religion has positive uses - as I noted before - in keeping the plebes in line.  The smarter folks pretend to be believers - and get a round of golf in on Sunday, after leaving church early.  They know that religion keeps their employees and underlings and the under-class in line.  If the poor realized they could take over the world, they would.  But if you tell them a mysterious sky-ghost will punish them, well, that's enough to keep stupid people working, paying, and tithing.

Without religion or a belief system, there is little to tether the poor and dumb to society.  They might revert to "every man for himself" and become criminals or drug addicts, or both.  Religion keeps stupid people in line.

That's why, in part, the religious right is correct that the lack of "prayer in school" results in more crime and social unrest - among the lower classes.  The very poor - who are also the very dumb - need mythology to keep them in line and give them a sense of higher purpose.  People crave that - which is why they worship celebrities, rock stars, porn stars, sports stars, or even political stars.  It is why the poor and dumb worship Donald Trump no matter what odious thing he does.

As a Trump supporter noted, "I see no Biden flags, hats, bumper stickers or banners!  Where are the Biden voters?  Trump musta won - no one voted for Biden!"  And if you approach politics from the angle of belief this makes sense.  Our cult hero has tons of followers!  The other cult has none!  That's because the people voting for Biden weren't doing so as part of a cult or a tribe.  These were people for whom logic overcame belief - and after four years of Trump, even the most hardened Bernie-bro (who was steeped in belief) voted for the anti-Trump, particularly when Bernie himself implored them to do so.

Of course, being somewhat dense, it took me the better part of 60 years to figure out that these breadcrumbs of belief were laid out for me.  I figured Santa wasn't real early on, and I learned in Bibble school not to challenge the belief system.   But I never figured out how to read between the lines and how some people become Officers or Executives while others were enlisted men or hourly workers.  With a nod and a wink, you are let into the exclusive club of those who see things as they are and act accordingly.  Otherwise, you are sentenced to a life of penury and want, but as a bonus, you get to go to some really cool religious services in amazing churches and cathedrals that you paid for, of course.  Lucky you!  The Priest chose your son to be an altar boy!  Such an honor for your family!

Like I said, it took me 60 years to figure this out, which was one reason I was never let into the "inner circle" of society, but was kept in one of the outer rings.  No. I was not a snake-handling evangelical who worked a blue-collar job (although I worked several) and tithed 10% of his salary to some odious church.  But I wasn't in the boardroom or had a cushy office on "Partnership row" in the law firm.  I was always on the outside, looking in, not welcome in either camp.

I guess the sooner you can figure out the hypocrisy of belief and learn to play the game, the better off you will be.  Pretend to be a believer and get the plebes to follow you.  Hey, look at Trump - he's basically the anti-Christ, yet evangelicals love him!  You see how this works - or maybe they just elevate him because it was a foretold sign of the apocalypse?  You decide.

Either way, it never pays to be a "true believer" but it makes sense to at least pretend to believe.