Friday, September 24, 2010

The Dangerous Disease of Belief

Why are so many human minds claimed by the pathogen of belief? By belief I mean accepting a claim or assertion without adequate supporting evidence. For example, someone believes that ghosts emerge on Halloween and roam the highways and biways. Or, another believes that the Earth is flat, despite photos taken of the Earth from space (which he believes are faked).

For sure, the consequences of belief can vary widely depending on the context. It may mean little or nothing to believe in ghosts, since there's no payback for doing so. However, when 975 people believed in Rev. Jim Jones and left their homes and families behind for Jonestown, Guyana - that carried serious repercussions. In the end nearly all were killed as part of a suicide pact ordered by Jones.

Believing then can have serious consequences, contingent on what exactly is believed in and the general surroundings in which it is rendered. In this regard, belief - absolute, untempered, literal or parsed belief in the Bible can have dangerous consequences indeed! One need only peruse Leviticus, Chapter 20, to see how an insane believer might justify a host of atrocities simply because "God said to do it! It's in the Bible!"

Consider just verse 8:

"For every one that curseth his father or his mother shall be surely put to death: he hath cursed his father or his mother; his blood shall be upon him. "

In Colorado, about seven years ago, a 10 -year old boy actually did curse his mom (according to court documents), and his grandmother took matters into her hands- biblically, referring to this verse in Leviticus. The 78 -year old grandma was a firm, literalist bible believer and immediately seized the boy, and dragged him into a bathroom while she ordered her daughter to fill the tub with boiling hot water. With the tub full, the boy was put into it and held down, acquiring second and third degree burns before a neighbor's 911 call to police spared him further harm.

Both women used the Bible as their defense, stating that the God of the Bible clearly mandated death for cursing a mother. The Judge seemed to accept this, delivering a guilty verdict on an attempted manslaughter instead of attempted murder charge. This shows how our courts can be fouled by religiosity which leniency would never be extended to an atheist.

Here we see how an uncompromising belief nearly led to the death of a child. Never mind the belief was based on a biblical passage, adopted as the absolute, inerrant truth. The point is that it was used as a justification to commit a potential murder. This alone discloses the serious danger of taking biblical passages literally, as opposed to re-configuring and adjusting them to the current era.

Just as the above Leviticus passage might sway a devout bible believer to kill, so might other verses, such as:

(10) "And the man that committeth adultery with another man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the adulteress shall surely be put to death."

(12)"And if a man lie with his daughter in law, both of them shall surely be put to death: they have wrought confusion; their blood shall be upon them."

(13)"If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them"

The last, especially taken literally, would give any fundie nutwhack a putative basis for going out and slaying homosexuals. "Hey man, the Bible God said to do it!"

Again, clearly, the Bible - KJV or any other, can't be taken literally. Further, the fact that fundies don't carry out these injunctions shows they don't take the verses literally. If they did take their bibles literally, they'd be out on the streets every night executing homosexuals instead of just blogging hate speech about them. But they know if they did attempt to carry out the Leviticus' injunctions, no judge or jury in the country would let them off. In the same way, the 78-yr. old Colorado granny wasn't let off, she had to spend six years in the slammer.

Another malignant injunction is Leviticus 20:27, which caused immense suffering in Salem, Massachusetts:

"A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death: they shall stone them with stones: their blood shall be upon them"

Because of literal biblical beliefs, the testimony of children was often used to inculpate an older woman has having a "familiar" - even if it was simply her pet cat! From there, a Salem witch trial was held, and she was led to the gallows.

From this we can see that since a fraction of biblical beliefs can't be literally taken, then it makes sense NONE of them can. That includes the ones referring to the need to "believe on Jesus Christ" or be damned or similar bullshit. They are ALL made up and the bible believers are caught out as hypocrites if they literally accept John 3:14-16 but not Leviticus 20: 27 or 13 or others.

The conclusion? All manner of beliefs are dangerous to hold!

In his book, The End of Faith, Sam Harris highlights one of the most dangerous and subversive passages from John 20:29: “Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed”. As Harris writes:

"so every child is instructed that it is at the very least – an option - if not a scared duty, to disregard the facts of the world out of deference to the God who lurks in his mother’s and father’s imaginations..

This is the very same faith that will not stoop to reason when it has no good reason to believe….This proves that these beliefs are not born of any examination of the world or the world of their experience. It appears that even the Holocaust did not lead Jews to doubt the existence of an omnipotent and benevolent God. If having half of your people delivered to the furnace does not count as evidence against the notion that an all-powerful God is looking after your interests, it seems reasonable to assume that nothing could"

If nothing else, the holocaust ought to have shown once and for all that no ‘super Being’ exists other than as a phantasm in the imaginations of the weak-minded – those unable to face the reality of a purposeless cosmos on their own. A cosmic “Santa” if you will. Sure, it's comforting to crack open the King James, turn to Psalms or some other book and mentally meander while delusionally believing one is suffused in righteousness. But in the end it's no more real than a coke addict's delusions.

As Harris points out, the fact we given any credence at all to such institutional madness, shows our civilization is headed for a new dark age wherein reason’s light will finally be dimmed. That some Xtians – like some Jews and Muslims- may do “good works” or perform charity is also no reason to extend any special benediction or respect toward them. As Harris observes (p. 106):

"The fact that people are sometimes inspired to acts of kindness by the teachings of Christ says nothing about the wisdom of believing that he – exclusively – was the ‘Son of God’. Indeed, we will find that we need not believe anything on insufficient evidence to feel compassion for the suffering of others.. Our common humanity is reason enough to protect our fellow human beings from coming to harm."

To the Materialist-atheist, the basis of protecting and cherishing human life devolves on no “god” or god-man or their “commands”, but rather the (apparent - until proven otherwise) uniqueness of life in the universe. The fact that, so far as we know, it abides only on this one world – and therefore bears treasuring in itself, as a cosmic rarity. Not because a fanciful “God” ordained it.

Why or how did the disease of unquestioning belief gain such prominence? I have a conjecture, but no absolute proof as yet. But a clue arrives via Julian Jaynes ('The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind', 1976 )who showed how true individuated consciousness didn't arrive until relatively recently in human history. The brain activity of ancient people lacked the sense of metaphor, irony and individual identity that characterizes a more advanced mind. It also lacked self-reference and introspection, a facility which enables modern man to not only think but think about his thinking.

A peculiar aspect of the fundamentalist mind is that it lacks these very characteristics - especially irony and self-reflection. It basically grabs and gloms onto assorted biblical passages that further its own preconceived biases and bigotry but not much more. Because contemplating the end of life on its own is too quirky and beset with complexity, the fundamentalist mentality makes it easy, simply reduce the debate of an afterlife to one of choice, or personal decision: Either believe in the Lord JC and get "saved", or disbelieve and be "unsaved" - your choice! Easy as 1-2-3! Black or white, no fuss no muss.

Alas, and just as wrong as Granny following Leviticus to burn her grandson for cursing his mommy. (Though the fundies will argue long and hard the two are different, but their argument collapses if they accord literal interpretation only to one and not the other. They end up as hypocrites, cherry picking what they want to literally interpret.)

In like manner to Jaynes' primitives, it is quite feasible that lacking individuation via self-reflection, the fundies' spontaneous need for a tyrant "God" arises. This tyrant is also beneficent to a point, as he gives orders, instructions and so on - to protect the tribe, or to avoid an enemy, or even conquer an enemy. (Or in the extreme, commit genocide on an enemy) Like the earliest agrarian primitives, we see the fundamentalist mind is a TRIBAL mind first and foremost. In Tribal minds, obedience reigns over all other values, including integrity, honesty, and intellectual pursuit and inquiry. The Tribal mind at base cares nothing for these, regarding them simply as excuses to avoid obedience to his Tribe leader, in this case his Demiurgos deity.

Tribal minds are also notorious for receiving special "instructions" which purportedly direct them to do this or that. In truth, the "instructions" probably emerged from some inner "voice" (we are all subject to internal dialogs from time to time) which - on account of absence of individuation - becomes a voice of "God" (The primitive was unable to differentiate the inner voice from an external one, attributed to "God" - just like modern day fundies do).

The danger of the Tribal mind is its absolute committment to absolute, unwavering belief. This is exactly why we must never EVER allow such a mind to get anywhere near the missile-releasing "football" - which means the presidency. Such a mind would, at the first excitation of a the primitive belief that "Yahweh calls for Armageddon" would release the missiles, or certainly try to expedite the end of times. We cannot allow that, and must never permit our democracy to be subverted to such malignant belief. We cannot allow ourselves to morph into the part of the mother who tried to assist ''Grandma in carrying out the injunction of Leviticus 20:8 on her ten year old son!

We must not allow ourselves to revert to the Tribal mind even if most of the country falls under its sway.

1 comment:

Caleb Shay said...

You left out another form of malevolent belief based on politics, for example the numerous ill-founded political beliefs of the Tea Party idiots like:

- the belief Obama isn't an American citizen

- the belief Obama is a socialist

- the belief that 'Czars' like those of the old Czarist Russia are runnning government agnecies

- the belief that Obama created most of the deficits when they were actually caused by Bush, from his tax cuts, wars of choice and corporate welfare to Halliburton, Bechtel etc.

- the belief that obama's health care plan is taking away citizens' own choices or forming 'death panels'

In many ways succumbing to political false beliefs can be just as terrible as the religious ones.