Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Time to Jettison the G-word!

In the previous two -part article headed, Truth, Existence claims and God Talk, I showed the utter meaninglessness and futility of using the word 'G-O-D' in any language context. It is simply another linguistic nonsense symbol, like flying spaghetti monster, 'tooth fairy' or 'Silmarillion'. I was reminded of the senselessness of the G-word again (underscored by its very ubiquity - in that any simpleton, zealot or madman can invoke it) on reading a story in today's paper that Mehmet Ali Agca had been released from prison. For those who don't recall or know, he was the one that fired shots at Pope John Paul II on May 13, 1981 and left the pontiff in critical condition. Now, on his release, Agca has exhibited no remorse, merely asserting: "I am the messenger of GOD!"

Now, in a rightful society or rational world, such a joker - even if not re-imprisoned for uttering such a remark, should at least be forced to enter an insane asylum. NO ONE gets messages from God, any more than from "the Supreme Pink Unicorn"! Anyone who says so is a rank fool or insane. The prescription ought to be confinement to a rubber room, preferably also bound into a straight jacket - with electric shock delivered on the hour, interspersed with lithium administrations.

I would prescribe this for anyone calling down a nonsense word in the interest of either justifying a killing (like those who murder abortion providers), or torturing (like the 77-year old Colorado granny who held her 11 year old grandson in a tub of boiling water because "God ordered me to do it" to "cleanse his body of Satan") or just plain old blabbering the G-word to threaten atheists, or agnostics with another nonsense H-word.

Meanwhile, the whole frickin' planet - or at least every lunatic in it - appears to be coked up on the G-word! The most recent abomination has seen the spectacle of Muslims in Indonesia and now Nigeria burning down Christian churches merely because the Christians wish to be able to use the word 'Allah' for GOD. At that allowance, the Muslims freaked. But if both words are presumed to refer to the same ULTIMATE entity what's the big deal? Here we enter into the "rose by any other name" line of thought.

From Pat Robertson sitting in his Virginia redoubt and proclaiming "the Haitians deserve their fate", to the incineration of churches because one group merely wishes to generalize ultimate Being by reducing name chauvinism, to old ladies torturing their grandchildren because "God told them to" - the use of the G-word means imbeciles, insane madmen, and rank zealots leave nothing to choose or discriminate when they use the term. Nor if they invoke the bible, since therein (especially in the Old Testament) is a portrayal of the grossest sociopath that ever was - as he extirpates this human group or that merely because they evince some small mode of independence)

Startling? Unusual? Hardly! But deluded religious believers would like the general population to believe all the foregoing are extreme or abnormal and not a scathing indictment of divinity -oriented religions. The fact is there’s no such thing as normal religious expression, since all demand the sacrifice of reason to an unverifiable absolute or god. In this sense, each of the above cited incidents are logical extrapolations from the same intolerant and closed mindsets.

The evidence of religious insanity is now so abundant that only the most terminally purblind or ignorant disputes the preceding point. And yet many do. Despite all the religiously-induced carnage noted, people still pray to their respective "gods", get ‘sacraments’, surrender their minds en masse to doctrinal ‘authorities’ and denounce those who refuse to grovel on bended knee to a god. This means that no matter how many incidents of religious insanity erupt, they don’t undermine religious belief. Nor do apocalyptic disasters which - if a genuine and benevolent Being exists - would't befall the same people again and again. Case One: the Haitians. But give the Haitians this, no matter how many calamities strike them - from multiple hurricanes to earthquakes - they still believe a beneficent deity is watching over them. Their faith is so pathological, it's imperturbable.

But why does this nonsense and attachment to a nonsense word -as if something really exists behind it - persist?

Anthropologist Richard Dawkins, in his book, The Selfish Gene[1] makes the eminently reasonable point that religions probably proliferate through a cultural counterpart to the gene which he calls the meme. Just as genes are units of transmission of biological heredity, memes are units of transmission of cultural customs, rituals and beliefs - including religion. Genes occur within a changing gene pool, while memes occur within an evolving meme pool. The survival of memes in the meme pool is directly related to their mass appeal to human brains. The more appealing, i.e. in respect of what they have to offer, the more likely they’ll be accessed by many brains and survive through generations .

Dawkins believes that the god meme affords high survival value to humans because of the benefits provided in confronting an unfeeling universe. Unable to tolerate a hostile universe replete with randomness (like earthquakes or tsunamis) and absence of purpose, human brains project their desires (and primate-driven instinct for hierarchies) onto nature and come up with gods, which - according to Dawkins – are embraced “as a cushion against their own inadequacies".

Dawkins maintains, and I concur, that this is why god ideas are readily transmitted through successive generations of humans. Most humans feel themselves alone as orphans of the cosmos and require a Cosmic Daddy to hold their hands. He says (Op. cit. , p. 206).

"God exists if only in the form of a meme, with a high survival value, or infective power, in the environment provided by human culture"

I believe this statement holds the key to eradicating religious beliefs (read ‘god memes’) as well as the G-word in all its varied and spurious incantations, and is incredibly perceptive in light of some recent research[2] . Consider this: at the present moment in human history religion no longer holds center stage but atheists remain stigmatized in varying degrees. Why? Because the ideas we seek to circulate: no afterlife, no god, no salvation and so on, go against many engrained ‘comfort providing’ memes to which most brains have become habituated and dependent on. Like a crack addict, when you remove the crack pipe - the religious addict freaks and attacks the benefactor. Or threatens him with "hellfire" for daring to pull his security blanket away and tell him he no longer needs it. That he's a grown up now, so time to lose the Cosmic Santa pacifier and sippy cup.

The bottom line here, is that it is the rationalist, the Materialist, and the atheist who are on the right track in making the world a more tolerable abode for all. In this light, French philosopher Jean-Luc Marion (‘God Without Being’, 1991) was quite correct in challenging people to think of G-O-D in a non-conceptual way. That is, only with a strike through when the word is written, to indicate no one has the capacity to describe, grasp, conceptualize or manipulate the underlying entity. Or say it without uttering meaningless drivel.

If then the entity is de-conceptualized it can’t be debated. Which would be a great accomplishment, as it would leave millions with much more time to actually do productive work.

As for Christians who insist their G-word "makes them holier" or allows them to "see the light". I say, fine, then prove it to me by leaving all your worldly possessions behind - like your "Son of God" commanded, and live with the poor and homeless for a year to show me you can translate these high powered beliefs into action. Don't just waste your time writing about them, casting aspersions on others, or making (afterworld) threats against them. You will get not one scitilla of respect from me by doing that. Talk is cheap. I need to see if you actually live in the real world, or if perhaps you live only in your own....you need some ECT administered.

As for atheism, it truly appears to be "a disease of the learned" as James Allen Cheyne has put forth in his fascinating article 'Atheism Rising' (Skeptic, Vol. 15, No. 2, 2009). The appellation here has apparently been used since the dawn of the Enlightenment- since atheism was observed to be prevalent mainly among only the most intelligent and educated classes. By the time of the classic 20th century studies of James Leuba, who found scientists are the most irreligious, it was realized this isn't just malarkey. Brainpower certainly does appear to go hand in hand with disbelief. (Especially as Leuba noted only 7% of National Academy ofd Science members were believers).

Of course this doesn't help us now with the lesser educated - so prone to G-word overuse they're almost drunk with it. Anyone have any ideas for mass brain transplants? Or better, as Arthur Koestler once proposed, configuring believers' brains to function in tandem with mini-computers and electrodes implanted into them!

[1] See Dawkins, R: 1978, The Selfish Gene, Paladin Books, London, Gr. Britain.

[2] See the fine monograph Consciousness Explained, by Danile Dennett (Litte & Brown, 1991), which gives an excellent Materialist interpretation of brain functions, including that which generates the "faith meme".

1 comment:

Caleb Shay said...

Hey copernicus, I take your point about the use of the G-word. You know what the problem is? It's too bloody portentous! What about the idea of replacing it with a more neutral - and less incendiary provoking word, like "BEING"?

Imagine that Agca guy saying:

"I am a messenger of BEING!"

Or that granny claiming - when she held her grandson in boiling water:

"BEING told me to do it!"

Just not the same flair! Not the same impact.

That's what we need to do is remove the *impact* when people refer to any higher reality if they have to.

"God" is useless because it's everywhere and anyone can use it any way they wish. BEING doesn't have that problem. Also, because "God" the word is introduced whenever the believers want to knock us over the head!

Imagine them having to say: "BEING will send unbelievers to Hell!"

Their whole shtick falls apart! They lose the punch, the power, the whole shebang.

So I say let's get rid of the G-word but replace it with a neutral term like "Being" or even "Higher reality".

Cool idea, no?