Saturday, September 16, 2017

The Pious War on Science and Reason

© Charles D. Hayes
That Donald Trump’s secretary of education, Betsy DeVos, wants Christianity to play a bigger part in the education of America’s children is appallingly unacceptable. Trump’s appointment of Jerry Falwell Jr. to lead an educational task force is equally unacceptable, as is the Supreme Court’s loosening of the separation of church and state. For me, these issues are the straws that break the camel’s back. An anti-science, anti-intellectual educational agenda in the 21st century is untenable. The Trump Administration is using organized religion solely for the purposes of regimentation in the creation of a backward, authoritarian, patriarchal culture that’s rich with contempt and animosity for those they assume don’t belong.   

I’m now in my eighth decade on the planet. I grew up in Oklahoma and Texas in the 1940s and 50s, in a family that professed a belief in God but did not attend church. In my youth, I was a religious child, but at some point, in my early twenties, I was hit with a lightning bolt of skepticism. Since then, I have been listening to arrogant people declare that if we don’t align the endorphins in our gray matter with theirs, we will burn forever in Hell. These days, in a country with holidays, laws, tax exemptions, and other practices of publicly declaring that supernatural beliefs are to be respected, we hear a constant chorus of complaints that such beliefs are under siege. I say, it’s about damned time.

We celebrate the human brain as the most complex entity in the known universe. Human consciousness is staggeringly complex, and yet there are people who declare that if you go along with their views and if you believe what they believe, you won’t need your brain in order to live forever; you will retain your consciousness and you will experience blissful joy for eternity. 

Any belief system that promises that dead people—people without functioning brains—will live eternally and that they will continue to survive in a glorious mental state simply because they believe something someone said about an event that they didn’t witness—an event that flies in the face of physics and elementary science, an event so preposterous that sanity must be put aside to even consider such violations of physical possibilityis a system that is a threat to global civilization.

The credulity required to accept these beliefs defies rationality. If such radically absurd views were not taught to children before they learned to think for themselves, they would not long survive, as is increasingly evident in Europe. Moreover, these outlandish notions pose an existential danger to mankind because they come with a surplus of defensive contempt for nonbelievers.

True believers are always on alert for those who raise doubts about their doctrines, and they are understandably wary of science and secularism. The devastating but largely ignored reality is that believing such impossible nonsense leads to magical thinking and a license to believe any damned thing, no matter how absurd the premise.  

People who identify as religious fundamentalists are very often so fully invested in their beliefs that they perceive opposition of any kind as a mortal threat. Job-killing automation, social change, accelerating uncertainty, gay marriage, other worldly religions—these looming issues threaten constricted worldviews. They cause believers to double down on their fantastical belief in the promise of immortality by stressing a need for conformity and obedience.  

The crux of the angst of true believers is deeply ensconced in the probability that if the world at large assumes they are wrong about traditional issues as basic as gender identity, gay marriage, and wedding cake politics, then they could also be wrong about bigger issues and quite possibly everything. It is not by accident that anti-LGBT laws are being enacted in states where significant numbers of religious fundamentalists reside. As millennials fight racism and bigotry via social media in southern states, especially concerning LGBT rights, the chorus of fearful response is getting louder.

A religion promising an afterlife is a psychological shield against the fear of death. It’s an existential dressing for the wound of nonexistence. Supernatural beliefs may have positive benefits for some, but the costs are enormous. Millions upon millions of people have been butchered because of religious conflict over the true nature of reality and which fantastical beliefs have credence.

At the geographical borders that separate divergent religious communities, the friction we see erupting threatens to favor one religious view over another. The resulting animosity can fester and smolder into a strain of hatred which, if it remains unchecked, can lead to genocide.

The world is treading dangerously close to a major religious confrontation between the West and East, Christian vs. Muslim. Many radical leaders from both religions are eager to engage in an all-out conflict because it will add great meaning to their lives. Christian conservatives increasingly call for political leaders to use the word Islamic when describing terrorists. This is precisely what the terrorists want to happen because it brings them closer to the possibility of Jihad and martyrdom.

Worship is amped-up delusion, and for the sake of humanity, it needs to be replaced, where possible, with thoughtfulness. Doubt can be frightening, but the price of willful illusion is high, too high. Take any mainstream religious text and substitute the word illusion for the word faith. By doing this, you will be taking a giant leap toward a more objective sense of reality while dissipating oceanic waves of angst and contempt.

Cosmologist Carl Sagan argued that “extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” There is not a shred of evidence that there is life after death or consciousness without a brain. None, zero, zip, nada. Death is simply nonexistence, and if you think it through, we’ve all been dead before. The first 14-plus billion years went by fast, so to speak. If you want to emulate those religious aspirations that call for brotherly love, compassion, and looking out for those among us least able to care for themselves, I’m all in. But if you expect me to subscribe to supernatural magical thinking, leave me out.

While I remain an advocate for religious liberty and religious tolerance, despite my wariness of organized religion, the separation of church and state requires an unmovable wall. If your religion gives you comfort, good for you. But when people use their religion to engage in bigotry, racism, and ethnocentric hatred, it’s time to speak up and denounce such rhetoric as having no place in a civilized society. If we violate the Founders’ principles of the separation of church and state, we do so at our peril. As Voltaire said, “Those who can make you believe absurdities, can make you commit atrocities.” Let’s not let them.

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  1. There is also no evidence that consciousness does not exist beyond the physical brain.

  2. And for sure none that it does, or could possibly do so with the brain that made it possible.

  3. Everything about this speaks to me. As a 42 year old skeptic in the Bible Belt of Kentucky, THANK YOU. I am convinced though it is exactly your type of thinking that will help our Nation survive many generations into the future. First and foremost - empathy and compassion, and second, almost equally important, an evidence based, fact based approach to living. Magic fairy tales need not apply.

  4. Fundamentalism of any ilk is our biggest problem. In the USA Christian Dominionism tends to be our biggest political issue. (Pence subscribes to this as do many Evangelicals) Wanting their dogma to replace our democracy.

    Education; real, fact based, non-white washed education is the key to stopping them in their tracks. The other half would be to defund them by revoking their tax-exempt status and forcing them to follow the guidelines set for every other charity.

    No one wants to outlaw any religion but we do want to de-fang the dangerous fractions within those religions. The extremists, the fundamentalists, the terrorists. For the sake of the future of humanity, they need to be cut off at the knees.

  5. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. There is not good reason to think any such thing. Find me a thought in an empty coffee cup and we will have something to talk about.

    2. Your part two is an exercise in skyhook mania. Not only is there no evidence for life after death there is not even evidence for suspicion that such a condition exists.

    3. you don't know what good reasons are you can;t distinguish between what you want and waht's true,of course if the admin takes down my evidence there's no way I can win.,real convenient for you.Come on my blog I;ll take down your evidence,

  6. Charles D. HayesSeptember 17, 2017 at 8:10 AM
    There is not good reason to think any such thing. Find me a thought in an empty coffee cup and we will have something to talk about.

    whistle in the dark,pretend your ok, ignore counter evidence because you know it proves you wrong.

    Your part two is an exercise in skyhook mania. Not only is there no evidence for life after death there is not even evidence for suspicion that such a condition exists.

    you did not read it did you? all of it is backed by scientific evidence from academic journals.

  7. first get over the fallacy of is not about proof, go read Carl Popper, science is about disproving bad hypotheses. that is why string theorists stick with a theory for which there is no proof. In place of proof we hane warant.

  8. most Americans won’t buy this argument. they have “faith” in religion. the faith guarantees the existance of God in spite of convincing scientific argumenrd.


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