Archive for October, 2009

Why I view religion as a mere technique for social control

October 22, 2009

One can approach religion as I do and not feel particularly embarassed.  I see religion — better yet, religious thinking — as a technique for social control.  One of its key arguments implies just that, in fact.  It is commonly suggested that, without faith in a God, an institution of God (or a Godlike institution), you inherently get a disaster.  It’s implied that nothing else is possible.  What is this emotionally charged argument but a tool of social control?  Our saviors come from earth (those preaching the “good news”) and from heaven (angels, or maybe God himself) to lead us straight through this doctrine or that, and virtually any problem is explained by our not following their ideas well enough.   This diagnostic code for social ills runs into problems of evidence, but such concerns can always be shamed away, as we are not supposed to question the divine will (and therefore possible motivations) of God and his/her/its earthly lackeys.  On top of that, they do not have to explain anything, as they believe “God moves in mysterious ways.”  These ways are so mysterious that, apparently, no one even has to try to make sense of them.  On top of that, attempts at understanding the logic of “His” ways may just piss Him off — depending on who you ask.  And then there’s heaven, the spiritual cruise vacation that never ends.  In heaven there’s no need to stress over arriving at any point, because you’re already there.  I’d guess that buildings in heaven (assuming there are any) wouldn’t require human labor, or, if they would, people would gladly construct them, and presumably without breaking a sweat or meeting deadlines in doing so — emotional stress would be lacking, as heaven is heaven (note the assumptions a believer must throw around).  And no Heaven signup actually exists, at least for the Christian version of the place, unless one interprets signing up as simply believing in it.  But believing in heaven and wanting to go there is proposing a permanent error, for it utterly destroys what it is to be human.  What many religions call “sin” is largely what it means to be human, or even a living thing.  In heaven, would I no longer  inadvertently have erections upon waking up in the morning?  Would I even wake up in the morning?  If I can’t get tired, why would I go to sleep?  Would life just be one endless day without a cycle of extreme  hot or cold?  That sounds interesting now, but I imagine it could get old. Then again, maybe it wouldn’t get old.   Maybe I would no longer grow bored with anything.  Perhaps I would, upon entering a theoretical heaven, become perfectly agreeable with everything.   But could I agree with everyone else up there (or “down there,” in case I miraculously end up in hell)?  
If so, would I even be me?  Would no one feel any bit of frustration; frustration that could lead to the “sin” of murder (if one gets far too emotional about things)?  I can’t even begin to imagine being happy all the time, and don’t like not being able to dislike things.  It’s like I wouldn’t be me, but some bizarro version of myself.  Or would we do away with emotions entirely?  In any case, I think us “sinners” would be getting ripped off if we needed to leave our humanity outside to enter the pearly gates.  It seems like the ultimate rip-off, only considered sacrosanct. 

The disease called “sin” is simply being alive with organic functions, and being susceptible to cause and effect.  The “sin” of doubt is merely one using his or her brain, which was not designed to be perfect any more than it was designed to be hamburger meat.  Of course, I highly doubt it was “designed” at all, but I’m not supposed to say that, lest my impure parts be licked by hell’s eternal flame.  And what about that flame, huh?  I’d believe in “Hell” only if I were rigidly taught religious beliefs and, like “God” commands, spread them like wildfire.   Could I possibly believe in hell otherwise?  I ponder that because, from what I’ve observed, religion is spread by controlling people, with the attempts at control called “saving.”  Perhaps I could imagine “hell” without being raised religiously, but if I wanted the idea to spread, I would raise my hypothetical kids to believe in it, and spread my beliefs at every other opportunity.  A religious society commands its followers to indoctrinate me — until I am as they are.  This will sound crass, but it’s similar to people who make over their pets to have their “style of dog”.  I can’t fault them entirely, but it can easily go too far.  Please don’t misunderstand.  I’m not saying we should have no standards for the young and raise them without values.  I’m  saying we should present and defend standards and values as they are, not for what we magically believe them to be.  Why link bad behavior with hell?  Just say it’s bad, and stop trying to save my soul!  Hypothetically, if I traveled through town booming “Jesus saves” messages on a loudspeaker, I’m not “saving” people any more than I’m annoying them.  And there are always more questions.   Here’s one:  Is God accountable?  I ask this because, in order for heaven to be heaven, I’d think you could actually address God and get him to answer for stuff he did — which is technically everything.  I don’t understand how this could be done.  If God is all, how do you contact everything?  For that matter, isn’t it a little pointless to say “God is great” if he indeed made everything?  Would he/she/it actually require us to brown nose and point out the obvious?  Then there’s the logical problem about this vast “greatness”:  If God really is everything, then how could there be anything of greater or lesser value?  On the flipside, if he/she/it isn’t everything — and if there are greater or lesser values than it –, then why even call it a “God”?

  It’s said that God is without sin, but God simply cannot be everything and not be within our sins.  Logically speaking, God would have to inhabit the heroin needle, the fist in the face, the swear word on South Park, etc.  The spirit of Jesus would be in every little sperm that connects with an egg.   And shit happens.  God has to have something to do with crap.  So are turds sacred?   Could I worship a floater and not be made fun of by ardent Christians?  I’m serious.  If God is not in everything, making everything happen, he indeed lacks total control and technically is not worth the term “God.”  And if God does enjoy total control but just “sits back and watches,” it not only makes him the ultimate pervert but renders his existence, or at least my belief in his existence,  pointless. 

But what if I’m unfair in calling God the ultimate pervert?  What if God actually gains no joy or pain from watching anything?  Well, what would be the point, then?  It would just be sitting up there as the hours race on by, saying “Hmmm…” , or perhaps saying nothing at all.  I could imagine him/her/it scratching his/her/its scalp and doing little else, as God wouldn’t feel enough about anything to act.  Even thoughts have an emotional component to them.  Without emotions motivating us to act, the logical thing would be to do nothing, for we would not feel a need to act.  That sentence is redundant, but practical.   Then again, God probably wouldn’t sit up in heaven saying and doing anything or nothing, as it supposedly is everything and therefore needn’t watch anything, including itself.  God’s doing nothing would still be doing everything, and vice versa.  It’s watchful eye would be the universe itself.  It also wouldn’t need to think much, as it’s thoughts actually are everything, or nothing, or any other fanciful way one wishes to describe the undescribable.  Or, maybe God really would have to think about anything and everything.  Could it be that God actually is material?  Could God sit on a chair, say things, watch us, and maybe laugh or cry while eating a big ol’ bag of popcorn?  Could it look in a mirror and say, “God, I need to lose weight?”  Again, I’m being serious.  Could it do that, even if only as a joke?  Could God laugh at itself?  In any case, God should get better hobbies than being  indescribable, or at least better define itself — preferably with actual dimensions (if nothing else, the worshippers deserve it). 

 I’ve highlighted the ultimate conundrum here.  In any attempt to understand God logically, one must by necessity not know it.  On one hand it could not be known as we are too humble to know it.  On the other, it must be known  to  avoid supposed hellfire.  What then do we know?  If religious, we know, or at least try to know, whatever origin story we were led to believe in.  In the end, heaven is the kind of exclusive club that it is not.  It is a perfect place because we are human and can seek it out, yet we can only attend it by surrendering humanity as we know it, to the point where we are seeking nothing as we understand it.
It belongs to no one and to everyone by its very nature, at least according to the mainstream narrative.  It’s all enough to wear out the most reasonable minds, which is why we are not supposed to address these ideas reasonably. 

In order to begin answering these questions, one must turn to other human beings. So, without viewing religion is a social mind game of sorts, we simply cannot witness its face.  It is, as a matter of fact,  faceless without people.  Yet, with the promise of perfection in heaven, what we consider a person must necessarily be transformed into a  non-person.  Without social manipulation describing religion, there is no man behind the curtain.  Churches themselves become entirely irrelevant, as well as religious texts and their writers.   Only our being human explains these questions, and with less mental gymnastics. 

Tests of faith make the “spiritual”  feel good, so long as they do not speculate in ways which “mock god” — in which case one magically becomes a hellbound fool.  Closing the walls of hell around us is often great fun for the religious, as they quite often make light of it.  However, it’s also apparently painful, as they claim to want to spare us from it.  To make the struggle of heaven and hell easier to understand for us mere mortals, classic imagery is applied.  Typically, we’ve got a night-time devil in red and black and a daytime God with grey beard and flowing robes.  Good and evil, god and devil.  Throughout life we’re going to be greeted with signs (and even disciples) of either domain, we are informed.  Jesus may appear on a Cheeto, a dental x-ray, or perhaps patterned into one’s public hair (hey, it’s possible, ye of little faith!).  The devil will go along with us on our daily routines, too.  He’s everywhere also, we are dutifully informed.    It’s weird, spooky, and hard to believe.  

Let’s personalize God, just for the sake of argument.
Rather than going from sex to sex — from he/she —  I’ll finally decide upon the traditional “male” version.  Arbitrary decision?  Yes, but so is anything else about God  (and no God of mine will get away with having a vagina!).   Anyway, let’s take this male God and look at the opening stage of the Christian narrative.  Going by the creation story, it took an all-powerful being 6 days to create the universe, and for some reason He felt the need to rest on the seventh.  It’s a cute story, but why should I view it as anything but just that?  This very part of the Bible — the opening part that billions and billions of people are familiar with — practically peels the skin off the discussion, clearly exposing how the entire thing might just be a bullshit story.  Read the opening lines.  In one sitting you get nothing but a cute little tale with no explanation.  Why six days?  Who not seven years?  Why not in the blink of an eye?  No one would know because no one adequately explains, or ever could.  It’s a story.  Also, a detailed, naturalistic explanation doesn’t sound as “wise” or as cute as God putting in a hard shift, then later sitting back and perhaps knocking back a few cold ones.   Still, it is a very serious tale to any highly impressionable mind, and that’s why it’s such a powerful tradition.

Everything’s A Gamble

October 19, 2009

In this note I wish to explain how gambling is a very general aspect of
 life, and how the same risks behind “organized gambling” apply to our society
 as whole.
In so doing, I plan to illustrate just how serious decisionmaking is, and why it
 is therefore dangerous to hand over the reigns of power to any elite decision-makers
 in society.
Some say gambling an dpolitics are evil, but I think emphasizing the term “evil” ultimately
 misleads on the issues, be it gambling or anything else.
So I will attempt to use a case-study of sorts and logic rather than
 cheap moralistic rhetoric to show my point.
I wish to have a scientific mind, and science
does not deal in “opinions.”

Gambling is a hobby.
 It has hobbyists.
But arguably so does voting.
There are those who have voted Republican
or Democrat all their lives simply to support “their party.”
Some might even be likened to addicts; not necessarily to voting, but to politics,
 patriotism, and supporting certain candidates intended to make decisions on our behalf.
 I might think regular gambling is a pathetic hobby, but I’m not
going to judge it nearly as much as those who would gamble with other people’s lives —
 and this is in fact what political systems do.
The distinction I would make personally between individual and largescale gambling is clear:
 If people want to lose money individually and generally get little
 more out of it than a cheap thrill, then so
be it.
If it’s “evil,” it’s largely self-inflicted anyway.
Not so with governments, which systematically impose losses upon others.
Don’t get me wrong.
To some extent this may be part of the human condition.
One of the greatest impediments to man (sorry ladies, but I’m using this term)
is the fact that he is institutional by nature, yet he wishes a significant degree
 of freedom from institutions in general.
So concerns over institutional power are not only relegated to conspiracy literature
 and comic books.

Consider the Roman Polanski case, of which most of us are aware.
I agree the man did an awful thing:  “Geimer [his young victim] struggled
to break free but was unable to resist his advances
 after he gave her the powerful sedative Quaalude, which he
claimed would help ease her asthma….”
And I also agree that there is probably a double standard here:  “The
 fact that not only has he escaped a long prison
 term, but is now being defended by the rich and
powerful in Europe tells you all you need to know
 about elites: they think themselves above the law and any
 moral censure.”

(1.  “Roman Polanski arrest: champagne and drugs overwhelmed Samantha Geimer,” Matthew Moore, Telegraph, Sep 28, 2009) 

The case is a slam dunk, or so your average American gambler of social
 policy would argue.
Obviously, the offense was worse than Geimer’s not having a good time, right?
But the plot thickens.
Polanski is over 70 years old now (not too far from death anyway), and Geimer has
 actually forgiven him (which strikes me as a very significant fact).
So any punishment for Polanski is not even defended by the victim herself, and
 would actually be an expensive form of societal revenge.
Would putting him in prison and making him a burden on taxpayers actually help
 anyone at this point, especially when we already know what he was and
may still be capable of doing, to the point where people should know better than to trust
 him around underaged girls (assuming he would do such a thing again)?
On top of that, he knew very well that he was no longer welcome in America,
 which could be interpreted as a significant punishment in itself and
 presumably makes America safe from him.
And the sad fact is, any number of men with alcohol and a drug could do what Polanski did.
Does locking such people in a cell instantly remedy the problem?
Does justice come from the presence of a cage?
So my point isn’t to defend Polanski’s actions, but to illustrate how even
 the so-called “slam dunk” cases are often considerably more complex than they are
 made out to be and are not without their own costs and risks.
Everything’s a gamble.