The HUMAN CONDITION – 2
Hubris and religion are closely related issues.
Just because there's something we don't understand, we immediately make it the creation of a supernatural power and start genuflecting, or even killing, if other people don't agree with us.
“We are right, you are not, and it is our duty either to save your soul or to make sure your beliefs are not propagated, whilst ours prevail. And by the way: out of the 100s of choices it is OUR definition of the deity that’s the correct one.
Convert or go to the sword.”
This is a pretty serious statement with wide ranging consequences and a strong threat that will determine the destiny of our fellow human beings and sometimes animals. It is an attitude that for millennia has caused war and unrest and still does, from the crusades to Northern Ireland, from Kabul to Washington.
If that is not hubris, then I don’t know what hubris is.
What we don’t understand is continuously wrapped around a set of artificial core truisms belonging to whatever god, we happen to believe in at the time the concept was created. Layer upon layer of mysticism envelope these humanly created dogma. As time passes, they become mystic in their own right. The origin becomes part of the cult, creating yet another impenetrable layer, which, after 1000 or 2000 years of religious Chinese whispers, results in common amnesia and a firm belief that a ‘God created them’.
Smart people were quick to discover that there was power in this onion of commands. It could be used to control others, to become rich. The early popes are as good examples as is the march of the Caliphate in the 7-8th C.
As long as the great, believing masses were kept in ignorance, it was a money- and power-spinning machine (well, that’s the same). An artificial enemy, namely those believing differently, was conveniently held up in front of our own believers to provide a focus for our righteousness, or eliminated, so we could expand our power.
If you think this is a description of a distant past, you have been sleeping most of your life.
But something has been happening quite recently in historic terms.
When Richard Owen, in 1881 in London, created the Natural History Museum, he could not imagine that he was cutting off the branch he sat on. Owen vehemently opposed Darwin’s theories about the evolution being a long string of natural selections, interrupted by cataclysmic events, only to continue with whatever was left. According to Owen, species were planted, feet first, firmly on the ground, finished as a sculpture, by a creator.
But now there was an institution, which with scientific means began to ask too many questions for comfort, at least the comfort of the contemporary religious people. Humility and sensibility had finally entered the brain of a few human beings. When Crick and Watson discovered the double helix structure of DNA in 1953, nothing would ever be the same again and layer upon layer of the belief-onion was peeled off.
It had started before, but progress was slow. Magnetism and lightning once belonged to the onion, actually for thousands of years. But people like H.C. Oersted had removed electromagnetism from the celestial sphere in 1820 and Franklins kite and key made lightning more earthbound - literally.
Knowledge and progress had begun a slow march that would accelerate dramatically in the 20th C. Ignorance was on the way out, although not totally.
Even the National History Museum has now exchanged the statue of Owen, its creator, with one of Darwin at the honour spot on top of the first flight of stairs when you enter the museum hall.
What has happened is a major change in our minds, or at least some of our minds: we are not completely above nature, as we have thought during 2000 years of Christianity. We are just another little speck in the picture that nature is busy painting around us and we have no intrinsic, select value. We are part of nature and just another element in its meaningless evolution and natural selection.
It would be too naïve and beautiful a thought, however, to believe that enlightenment and humility would have a free reign from now on.
Action creates reaction – and so it happens.
With very little left of the religious onion, some other arguments must enter the scene in the camp of those, who for a number of reasons still close their eyes.
It can be extremely difficult to give up a belief, an idea, that has been the well trodden path for the whole of your life. In most cases it would have started when you were a child. The child’s mind is like plasticine, but once we grow older, it hardens and becomes titanium steel. Once a concept is in, it’s next to impossible to get it out.
Try to convince an old communist, or better: a member of Jehova’s Witnesses, or a scientology convict. Try to argue with a fundamentalist Christian or Muslim. Such a conversation does not follow the normal rules of debate. Once you have professed your belonging to a dead idea, how easy do you think it is to lose face and abandon it?
Exactly: too hard.
So, what argument is left?
A very powerful one indeed!
It is called: I don’t just believe, I KNOW.
This is where every discussion with a fundamentally convinced person starts or ends and it is very difficult to circumvent. In fact, you can’t.
It becomes even worse if you talk to a creationist or an end-timer, both the result of brainwashing and deliberate dumbing down. The first lot simply ignore facts in all their naïvety and orchestrated stupidity, the second are downright dangerous in their belief that the world is forecast a dramatic and imminent end as stated in the bible. This means that whatever they do, it is bound to happen. Therefore it is better to ensure you fight on the side of the God (in which they believe) and help send the rest of us to a very warm place. George Bush belongs to this dangerous clan, which may go a long way to explain American foreign politics in the past 10 years.
The general danger is buried in fundamentalism, both Christian and Muslim. Neither can be contained behind a personal, private set of walls any more, as some of us with tolerant attitudes have thought for a lifetime. 9/11 and Tony Blair’s conversation with his god before going to war in Iraq are frightening examples on how religion can go astray and the message of ‘love thy neighbour’ be trampled under foot.
You would expect such people, as heads of state, to possess a little brain, but again: once the child’s mind has been boxed in, it is almost impossible to modify its confusion.
Now consider the bible and its 25 gospels. Why were 21 of them eliminated, in particular the one created by a woman, Mary Magdalena? Why were most of the dogma, to which present day Christians adhere, created by the church at the synod of Nicaea in 325 AD? Or the hereditary sin in Cluny, 410 AD? And why, oh why, do we find virtually every statement in the Egyptian ‘Book of the Dead’ repeated in the Bible, word for word? Did God not do his/her school homework in time, so that he/she had to copy the class’ smart kid before the teacher arrived? That is, if the Bible was written by God and not by a whole army of clerics, as is the accepted knowledge.
The same can be said about the Quran, although there is one major difference between the two: the New testament flows over with good ethical advice, while the Quran is completely devoid of same, concentrating on all the bad things that might happen, if you don’t believe in their version of the almighty.
But in both cases the deity appears to be a vengeful, warmonger – something humans have been fast to copy when it suited them, but slow to accept when it was angry.
All in all: it is very difficult to consolidate the angry god in both religions with the message of love. Consequently human beings have continued to be confused beyond any rational reason. The Norwegian philosopher, Peter Wessel Zapffe, expresses it in this way:
Humans are born with an overdeveloped skill of awareness, understanding and self-knowledge – (what I call "ability to think in abstract ways") which does not fit into nature's design. The human craving for justification on matters such as life and death cannot be satisfied, hence humanity has a need that nature cannot provide satisfaction for. The tragedy, following this theory, is that humans spend all their time trying not to be human. The human being, therefore, is a paradox.
In our quest to determine, factually, whether there is a ‘god’ or not, we often refer to our ‘god’s inclination for disaster management. Apparently the preacher Billy Grahams’ daughter had a comment about the hurricane Katarina and the destruction of New Orleans. Ben Stein from CNN found it very profound. It goes like this:
'I believe God is deeply saddened by this, just as we are, but for years we've been telling God to get out of our schools, to get out of our government and to get out of our lives. And being the gentleman he is, I believe he has calmly backed out.
I think this potential 'God' has had the same attitude always, even when everyone in the world was genuflecting ad nauseam.
Pest, volcano disasters, untold tsunamis, landslides, climate change and hunger as for example the 10 years in 536-546 AD, you name it, anything not humanly created, are good examples of ‘God’ walking quietly away. Or never being there.
But of course we didn't all know ‘God’ then.
If the disasters were of human origin, it was easily explained as ‘God's revenge.
Like war, torture, etc, where he commands this species, that he loves so much, to fall upon each other.
Revenge? Punishment? What a miserable kind of love!
In my view we must begin seriously to understand that the universe, of which our world is a microscopic part, is a naturally evolving environment that unavoidably and constantly turns into a killing field. Land is created through tectonic action and volcanic eruptions and animals constantly develop - not because of their strength, but because they adapt (big difference, that Hitler didn't understand), protecting them from being eaten.
This gives rise to new environments and species, a fact we can verify scientifically.
A lot of this we call "Nature's beauty".
A lot of the beauty shown is actually the consequence of erosion and breakdown. When the beauty turns violent it suddenly becomes God's wrath, because we have misbehaved. How convenient: always an explanation.
Try staying a night alone and unarmed in a Kenyan jungle and you’ll know what I mean.
With a bit of technical savvy, we could now put another You-tube video together, preferably accompanied by the very same song, showing
- the cruelty of nature (eat or get eaten) - beauty is in the eyes of the beholder, e.g. an antilope just downed by a lion or one of the early human remains found in Tanzania with a hole in the scull from a leopard's tooth
- the Indian and Samoan tsunamis
- slaughter in Rwanda, Uganda and Indonesia
- clips from "the Mission", a very powerful film showing the true face of religion as a political device
- immense poverty and suffering across the world, even amongst those who believe, from Calcutta to Timbuktou
- pollution (including natures own like the volcano in Cameroon that killed 80.000 people through spewing CO2)
- and many other examples.
Nature’s own forces have a free reign and always had, while constantly - on its own - changing the operational conditions without the tiniest sign of benign, or malign, interference.
I find the pictures beautiful - but the message disgustingly devoid of the message: be responsible for your own actions, with unconditional love and respect for your habitat and fellow beings.
Look at it again and consider how much of these sugar sweet pictures we may not be able to see in 100 years from now.
The song ends with "believe as a child" - of course; children can be impregnated with the desire to kill each other, Americans in particular as it happens in some countries - and feel good about it.
So why not twist their minds with religion from the start?
Now you only have to choose which religion of the 50 major ones on the menu, all claiming to be the only one.
We must begin to understand that we should use our powers, not our non-existing uniqueness, to protect a nature that would have absolutely no problem with 'getting on with it', i.e. evolving and killing, both animals and mountains, if you will, without our presence or interference.
Unfortunately humans have greater power to destroy than to build.
It is very sad that we have learnt so little in our miserable 1 million years of slowly evolving existence.
So the dinosaurs disappeared. According to the Creationists this happened well into the period (or after) where stone age man roamed the earth. Right!!
Well, seriously I believe that humanity will self-destruct one day.
We will take a good chunk of nature with us when it happens. Deserts, apocalyptic flooding, nuclear winters, etc. come to mind.
It could, of course, also be because of a comparable reason to why the dinosaurs disappeared: Hyper volcanoes such as Yosemite, asteroid impacts, etc.
But some sort of 'nature' will emerge again - whether a new and prolific nature such as the one that emerged after the 90% destruction of all life after the Permian period, or a silent, ice-filled quiet as on Europa (one of Jupiter's moons).
It doesn't matter. Mother nature will make up her mind when the time comes.
If you want to believe there is a God behind this, be my guest. I respect people’s freedom to choose, but I do not respect the content of the prevailing religious beliefs. Religion had its time and reason in the ages of ignorance. Not any more.
So far humanity has created 100s of gods if not 1000s.
A lot of them continue to live on in our present ‘God’(s) and their characteristics can be traced a couple of thousand years back.
Even present day Christianity (Catholicism) has over 5000 ‘Gods’.
They call them 'Saints'. People pray to them and they have godly powers.
That's polytheism in my view.
I think it is our conditioned upbringing over 1000s of years that makes us inherently religious. We needed religion when we came down from the trees in the East African jungle a million years ago. There was nothing else to help.
It is a calming thought that when we can't explain nature, then someone must have created it. It couldn’t possibly be by accident.
Well? Why not?
Stone age man finds a Swiss watch, lost by a missionary in the jungle or sees an airplane - and a ‘God’ is born.
The Cargo-Cult in New Guinea is a good example.
‘God’ even gave them presents (cargo).
It is even more calming to believe that when we are in trouble and no one is there to help, we can pray to someone or something.
What else is there? The weak would go under, as they would have nothing else.
And if you firmly BELIEVE it, it is better than a shrink.
The more we can enlarge our scope of wonder and learn to respect nature in all its self-generated enormity, the more we will enrich our lives, without succumbing to our tendency to explain everything through the unexplainable.
Wouldn’t it be nice, if religion were a private matter and not an excuse for righteousness, war, dominance and a need for converting 'the others'??