Friday, April 13, 2012

Religion or Not?

I listened to a NPR debate on religion.
The motion was: "The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion"

Let me say that I once worked with a guy who talked of a construction contractor in an awed tone, "I admire and respect him because we think exactly alike," he said. He meant that they had the same practical approach to problem solving. And I would add that they both went out of their way to solve problems for other people. In fact, they made a living from finding someone's problems and fixing them by design. The world is their graph paper and they concentrated on the problem until it was solved. Consequences or philosophy never entered their process of reasoning. Physics and supply chains and budget were the only things that mattered to them. They are both huge successes in the eyes of the modern world, while I'm a complete asshole who is a burden to all.

Now, I have to say that I don't feel the same way about contractors. I admire them but I feel no affinity with them. I study them objectively, from afar, knowing that they operate in a realm (physical and immediate) that is not my home. All efforts to embrace this realm have led to problems for me. The Merchant Marines was truly 6 months of comedic misadventures. My home improvement problems have left hundreds of DIY forum participants vowing to never help a novice again. My vehicle maintenance efforts involve the oldest daily driver in America. I literally drive the oldest car I've seen on the road. From Mexico to Labrador I've one encountered one truck that was older. It was a 1967 Ford Bronco that was buried on a beach. Hell, my 1974 Vespa Ciao moped is older than every other car on the road. I'm an isolated anomaly chugging along with points and condenser on a lobbed spark distributor, one step above steam.

But hearing this debate on a totally theoretical topic revealed members of my own tribe. And I don't only mean the two secular humanists who argued in favor of the motion. The one Rabbi and the Christian president of King's College London were as convincing as any and as comforting as most.

This topic is not practical and only a philosopher/rabbi would bother engaging someone else in a debate. I am that philosopher. These panelists, especially Dinesh D'Souza, reminded me of myself. His twist on the whole "hypocrite" accusation was the best I've heard. "Failing to meet high ideals is different than pretending to strive for high ideals." If you are already bored with what I'm writing then you are on the contractor side of the world and I mean no disrespect when I say that you and a hammer and a carpenter's level should become well acquainted. I am on the side of the fence who is asked to hang a picture level with a window and I ask, "Why?" My heroes are the hermit Thoreau, the martyr Socrates, the writer Hesse and the fictional character Ignatius Reilly. Henry Thoreau built a house but only after 30 years of debating whether he should. Socrates rationalized his own suicide. Hermann Hesse wrote lovingly about two different celibate monks and Ignatius Reilly longed for a return to Feudal Secularism and lute music.

On the topic of religion these four people could literally entertain me for centuries. If food and shelter were not a factor we 5 would happily debate this topic for eternity. And I mean eternity. I would never tire of examining the theoretical angles involving religion's meaning and application. NEVER. Considering all 5 of us are basically secular humanists I guarantee that for the sake of the debate all 5 of us would become passionate Christians.

Listening to the four live NPR panelists debate this topic was like watching philosophy porn because they attacked and defended the topic exactly like I do, with a range of humor and rhetoric and denial and exclusive definitions and selective history and rewriting facts and metaphors and stories and some facts and appeal to reason and faith and anger and passion.

Not content to listen, I placed myself in the panel and asked myself the following question: What human endeavor/activity is 100% devoid of religion. If I could find this activity then I could examine it to see if this activity is "good" Because if the world would be better without religion then all activities would be devoid of religion and if I could find something that is currently devoid of religion then that would help my examination. See? So, I've narrowed it down to two activities.

Electrical Engineering. Cosmetic Surgery.

Maybe there are more but I can't think of any off the top of my head. It seems every other endeavor has some trace of religion in it. I'm smiling because this really is climbing a philosophical mountain that should seem totally fruitless to those who are tradesmen. But you are projecting your values onto me. I realize that shelter and food and not philosophy are the staples of man, but I'm defective because I have it reversed. I'll trade 80 years with an architect's ruler for five minutes writing a sloppy philosophical treatise. That's me. Call me an asshole but first define "asshole."

Anyway, let's focus on Cosmetic Surgery. I can't think of anything less related to religion but I haven't dissected it for very long. I'll probably make a connection between religion and cosmetic surgery later but unless I want to write this essay for five years then I'm going to move forward. I mean the actual application of a face lift or breast implant or ass flab suction is so humanist/human/vain/egotistical/culturally derived that it's my choice as the activity that is purely human. When you listen to those who desire cosmetic surgery and those surgeons who do the surgery, there is never ever an appeal to Jesus Christ or Muhammad or Buddha. It's also a relatively recent activity and is a western endeavor. Yes, religious people must get cosmetic surgery, but I haven't seen any religious people justify it with religious arguments. It's a very human thing to be impacted by the body image/superficial values of modern cultural spin doctors. One religious argument in favor of cosmetic surgery could be that since we were made in God's image and if you have your nose blown off by a grenade then you are no longer the image of God so you need to have a plastic nose installed on your face to bring you back to the image of God. But that's a stretch because mostly it's about being publicly accepted. Like when I wear my bell bottom pants and every other person calls me an asshole or throws an aluminum can at me then it's safe to say God didn't wear Bell Bottom pants...and I should wear normal jeans to blend in. But that's crazy. My desire to fit in outweighs my desire to dress in the image of God...who probably was allergic to polyester.

Maybe we should focus even further on breast implants. That would help me move on and since I'm making the rules I get to say that the single activity that humans participate in that is devoid of religion is breast implantation. It's purely about meeting a personal ideal appearance in this earthly realm. I'm not arguing with this desire but I'm merely trying to find the one thing that we can expect to see a lot more of in a world without religion...because one could conclude that since this is an activity devoid of religion in a world with abundant religion then in a world without religion then there would be a dramatic increase.

(If you listen to the NPR debate then my insane philosophizing will sound comparatively tame)

Can we agree that breast implantation is an activity devoid of religion? Maybe I'm missing something. If we can agree on this fundamental premise then can we then say that the world would be better with more breast implantation? Somehow that statement didn't come out like I expected. What I mean to ask is if the world would be better with more of the impulse that leads to breast implantation? Philosophically, the impulse is conformity and vanity. Women want to be a standardized shape and size, like they are parts of an automobile. This is an ungodly desire...and if Larry Flynt wrote the bible it might be in accordance with his tenets but the King James bible says nothing about breast size. So, the impulses of conformity and vanity are what we can expect more of in a world without religion.

One of the best arguments I heard in favor of the calming influence of religion was that for every murder you can attribute to some fundamental religious argument, you can find ten murders that were committed by an atheist. In other words, California prisons, the state with the most criminals in the world are not in the business of persecuting the devout. No. Not at all. The crimes they committed were not fundamentally religious in nature; their crimes were departures from their faith. You look at the Iraq it an attack on infidels by armed Christians? No, it's an attempt to secure more oil because we don't like to walk to the grocery store. The Spanish inquisition killed 2000 heathens total. In the name of atheism Pol Pot killed 3 million Cambodians. Hitler's persecution of the Jews was actually a political campaign to win the votes of the Bavarian Catholic. Hitler didn't really care for either religion but you wouldn't know it by his speeches. So was it religion that caused the Holocaust or was it an extremely selfish political campaign, the product of democracy? Did democracy cause the Holocaust? 

Hell, go to your local court and count how many religious crimes were committed. In fact, the only religiously motivated crimes I can think of are the attacks on feminist health care clinics by fundamentalist Christians who believe abortion is murder because the bible suggests it. Politically, it was murder only 40 years ago and even then the number of abortions performed compared to the number of doctors killed because of it was probably 100,000:1. Now it has to be 500,000:1. It's definitely a purely religious murder but it's such an incredibly small fringe group of fundamental Christians who will actually kill to defend their religious beliefs that it's more of an example of how weak and insignificant religion is instead of how strong and influential it is. Of course, I'm not a doctor at a feminist health care clinic so that's easy for me to say.

Maybe it's wrong to quote from one of the most shabby excuses for a website (that is the philosophical equivalent of Oggy trying to replace a window sash) but here's one Pro-Life "argument"

Psalm 139 again makes clear that the fetus (unborn baby) is a human whom God loves. And God told the prophet Jeremiah, “before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5). God had plans for Jeremiah even while he was in his mother's womb.

This quote makes me wonder if a miscarriage is an abortion caused by God? Maybe that's a subject for another essay if only I could get Jeremiah on the phone. Seriously, this argument using Psalm 139 is pitiful...totally circular reasoning. This book says God knew and sanctified a fetus so the fetus was already a human and since this book is true and that's proven by the book itself, therefore... Hahahaha. First of all, the quote specifically talks about the pre-Jeremiah, NOT EVERY FETUS IN THE FUTURE. Jeremiah might've been sanctified by God but He pretty much ignores every other fetus. Second of all, Psalm 139 is the most manipulative flim flam bullshit crock of shit and has no relevance in the earthly realm at all and definitely has no sway on modern health and justice affairs. To quote A.C. Grayling, the new testament quotes "literate goat herders" and should be treated as such.

Hey, that makes me think of another activity that is purely secular and humanist: abortion. No one would say that God told them to abort their baby and no one would say that God decided it was their calling to abort babies. So, abortions and breast implants are the two activities that are devoid of religion and I feel it's safe to say that the world would not be 100% better without religion. It wouldn't have lasted so long if it were 100% bad. And to those who say that there is at least a small fraction of negative influence from religion I answer that there is an equivalent fraction of negative influence from atheists and I'm unconvinced that the removal of religion, the obliteration of the notion of God would improve the world. Isn't there room for opposites: God and Reason; Prayer and The Scientific Method; The Bible and Lolita; The Sistine Chapel and Hustler? Darwin and Galileo thought so and so do I

Of course, this does not address the question of the existence of God. That's a separate question. Santa Claus doesn't exist but kids are still positively influenced by his myth and religion may be a completely manufactured hoax but it still has some positive effects. You don't have to know how your car works for it to get you to the custard shop.

Before the debate:
52% FOR

After the debate:
59% FOR

I should point out that in the pre and post poll of the audience absolutely no one flip-flopped from in favor to opposed. Only 7% of the undecided people sided with those in favor of the motion. And 5% sided with those opposed to the motion. In other words, if you are on the fence then you can become convinced one way or the other but if you have already decided then you will not change your mind. What do you think?

I could go on all day but unfortunately only Rabbis and presidents of colleges get paid to pontificate on philosophical matters so I'm going to go finish fucking up the stain on the fence.

I leave you with these words of comfort from Mr. D'Souza:

Nietzsche once said that if we get rid of God, we’ve got to get rid of shadows of God. In other words, the ideas that Judaism and Christianity brought into the West and into the world, those will begin to erode as well. Dostoevsky said a long time ago, “If God is not, everything is permitted.” And Dostoevsky’s point is that when we get rid of transcendence, when we create a world without religion, we license terrible calamities.
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Man in the Van by Oggy Bleacher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported License.