Feb 25

A Rant and a Resolution

For centuries people have resisted the tyranny of the superstitious and irrational. Early on we began to forge the tools to overcome these influences within ourselves. For most of our history those tools were dull and largely ineffectual in the face of a biological need to conform. Then, in different places and in different times, logic and the sciences were born. These tools didn’t behave like faith did. They weren’t the product of eons of evolution. These tools were different. They grew sharper with use. Our brains were ready for them but they took work and some skill to use. They were often counter-intuitive. And they produced results that were consistent. Some powers were quick to recognize the dangers that science posed to tradition and quickly suppressed its development. Other powers were less vigilant and allowed these tools to be used. These too would have been eradicated had it not been for their utility. So long as science could be controlled, it was assumed, it could make the powerful stronger. So began the slow compromise of traditional superstition to reason.

At times science made leaps. Sometimes these leaps were of no use to those in power but often they threatened the legitimacy of their authority. When Galileo demonstrated that the earth was not central to the universe he barely escaped execution. Had this knowledge offered some discernible advantage to the church at the time perhaps his discovery would have been welcomed but, instead it only served to undermine their already deteriorating authority. The seeds Galileo planted didn’t wither and die though. Slowly, ever so slowly, knowledge illuminated the dark corners of our ignorance, previously filled by God. That ignorance was so vast, however, that few people noticed God was getting smaller, just as a balding man is more keen to notice the loss of a few hairs than a man with a full head. So while he did get smaller, few took notice. Once upon a time God had moved the heavenly bodies, made tides rise and fall, made adjustments to the seasons for man’s benefit. But science explained the nature of these things one by one with extraordinary elegance and so God receded. Science worked slowly enough back then that it took a generation or more to even notice how that God was shrinking.

Of course the smaller God gets the more noticeable his change in stature becomes and by the twentieth century his small form had been crammed tightly into the ever thinning gaps of human knowledge. You see God, like all human ideas, is mortal and all mortal things are born, live and die. The vitality, the life force of any human idea is measured in the minds of those who accept its veracity. That makes God as real as any idea be it justice or love. And by the time we pick up our story in the present day, God is, in just as real a sense, dying. That the more singular idea of God has been dying for some time is clearly evidenced by the division of denominations and religions. If you insist on taking God at its most basic level, that singular idea, then with every division it has grown sicker and weaker. It is a house divided against itself. If you insist on seeing each division as its own evolved version, its own vision of God then there are thousands of very weak gods indeed. Either way, in mid century America, a reprieve, a revitalization of sorts was attempted. These divided ideas were unified, in theory, under the banner of Christianity, a common label to revive the ability of God to achieve a common purpose.

While this unification was simply a means to a political end it did tend to put some of the more authoritarian powers back in the hands of God, or at least the “Godly.” In principle these sects and denominations were as different and divided as ever but language is a powerful thing. Their Gods all shared the same name and, for the most part, the same holy book. So it was relatively easy to believe they all shared the same God, especially if it was only for the purpose of trying to legislate those beliefs they held in common. As any despot knows, it isn’t enough to give people a common goal. They need a common enemy. A nation of theists, having reaped the benefits of a longstanding secular democratic republic, now turned their venom to the secular with a vengeance. They vilified the very culture that enabled their beliefs to flourish. They began to bite the hand that had nourished them and had given them the freedom to grow unencumbered by interference from government. It had given them that freedom on one simple condition: that they maintain the wall that separates them from the civil powers that be. That wasn’t to last.

I could spend a great deal of time expanding upon how this came to be this way but I would rather concentrate on one of the reasons why. If you accept that God (theism may be the better term here), as an idea, has taken on a life of its own then it isn’t a stretch to allow the metaphor to carry more weight. Living things don’t want to die and when faced with the prospect, real or perceived, they will fight to survive. God has been pushed into a corner and it is dying. There is no depth of depravity so low that it is not an option when fighting for your very survival. This is why I am never surprised when I read the headlines and see the deplorable and inhuman things theists do to fight a secular society. I am appalled, yes, but never surprised. The fact that there are such lows of human depravity so widely accepted, especially in a country founded on the kinds of ideals set forth in our constitution, is saddening. From the perspective of the dying God it has every right to fight for its survival, even at the expense of the rights of those it perceives as being its murderers. From the perspective of the theist, with the warped sense of history and morality instilled in him by his ideology, we really are an evil horde. One shouldn’t honestly expect to see much fairness or consideration produced by that kind of mentality.

Perhaps I have gone too far? One may object that God isn’t really dying. We certainly aren’t trying to kill it, simply insisting it be placed on equal footing with other ideas. We want to take away whatever special privileges it might be endowed with in the free exchange of ideas. We want the freedom to criticize and point out flaws and inconsistencies, something that God has enjoyed a particular immunity from for centuries. I agree that in reality we don’t seek to be murderers of God. I don’t think the reactionary nature of theistic responses to secularism is based in reality, however. The theist has consistently perceived any insistence or attempt at equality to be an assault on God and thus their reaction is indistinguishable from a reaction to an actual attempt to destroy religion. It is for this reason that, should we persist in our efforts to demand equal treatment, we should expect things to get worse instead of better. We have to be prepared for those who perceive themselves to be in the position of a cornered animal to act like one. The more we demand the greater their reaction will be.

Does that mean we should accept this kind of behavior? Of course not. We are at a distinct disadvantage, though. Their ability to unite under a banner, regardless of how insincere that banner may be, gives them the power of a majority. Granted, in this country, our constitution was designed to protect the rights of minorities from the tyranny of the majority. Sometimes theory can be very far divorced from reality. The constitution depends on people to enforce it. That is always the weakness of any system of government that seeks to bridle the more questionable parts of our nature. We can argue. We can take our cases to the highest courts in the land. We can recite the bill of rights and every legal precedent we want but if people in the position to enforce those rights refuse to do their jobs it puts us in a predicament. We aren’t the tiniest minority but we are a minority nonetheless. You don’t have to look too deeply to find examples of rights being eroded away through legislation where no one in a position to stop it, who could have stopped it, bothers to raise a hand. Luckily there are still plenty of people honest enough and who maintain enough of their faculties to recognize those rights for what they are.

Which brings me to my next point. I think the future of this dilemma depends most significantly on two factors: the free exchange of ideas and access to information. Most importantly the ability of young people to access information. Education is the biggest contributor to the spread of reason in the world. Exposure to ideas in an honest environment where inquiry is encouraged and lies are not permitted to stand unchallenged is the biggest motivator of young people to free themselves of superstition. Obviously it is also the biggest threat to religion as well and this is the crux of our dilemma. Part of the reason theists have reacted so strongly against secular culture is because their children are defecting and in large numbers. There was a time when a religious parent could shield their children from exposure to knowledge and ideas. They cannot easily do this now. We live in an age where any statement can be checked for accuracy in seconds. Any philosophy or position can be examined critically and thoroughly with ease. Every facet of an issue can be explored. Any objections that have been thought of are there for all the world to see.

It might come as a surprise to some but they are aware of this situation as much as we are. The most popular pejorative among them in such situations is the word agenda. When they don’t want the uncomfortable chore of having to explain to their children that homosexuals exist or are decent human beings then every mention in culture or media where this idea is displayed is called the gay agenda. Every instance where an atheist expects the same rights for their voice or opinion to be heard or, god forbid, wants other atheists to know they are not alone, they are part of the atheist agenda. The very idea that a group they dislike might be represented in any positive manner is seen by them as evidence of a secret plot to destroy everything they hold dear. In some cases the fact they have to acknowledge our existence is too much. In one example, an atheist group was simply marching in a parade and had the audacity to identify themselves with a banner. I actually heard interviews with outraged parents upset that now they had to tell their children what an atheist was.

This is how far removed they are from reality. They have been in the seat of privilege for so long that they think that acknowledging the existence of someone different than them is an attack on their very way of life. It is delusional at best, vicious and evil at worst. There was a time when I was certain we would win. If nothing else we are a continuation of the enlightenment. Where the great free thinkers of yesterday were still caught up in the quagmires of their age, racism, sexism, deism, etc, we can stand aloft upon their shoulders and go further. Maybe we will win. Maybe we won’t. I have only recently began to see the true scope of the enemy we face. Just as every revolution can have a counter-revolution, every reformation a counter-reformation, so can an enlightenment have a counter-enlightenment. That is what we face. We face a very real movement to reverse the tide of democracy in the world and it has quite a momentum. Much of that momentum is hidden from public view but I assure you it is there. Those on the front of that momentum may be stupid but those pushing them aren’t. They have advantages we haven’t even began to contemplate or come to terms with.

I have recently began to study these things in much greater depth than I ever have before. Politics has never been my thing so I have been ignorant of the subject for years. That gives me a steep learning curve that I have to overcome but I am determined. The stakes are just too high. That is one of my new goals. I intend to research and report to you, to anyone willing to listen. I am not one to fall easily into the trap of unsubstantiated assertions. Expect my opinions to be supported. Call me on them if they seem lacking. I will keep you updated on my progress. Thanks.

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