"One's first step in wisdom is to question everything--and one's last is to come to terms with everything." ~ Georg Christoph Lichtenberg
Column by Jim Davies.
Exclusive to STR
Faith: what a person believes, regardless of fact, evidence, proof or reason; it's powerful stuff. It can cause him to surrender his life, and to rob others of theirs, all the while retaining a strong sense of virtue, of doing the right thing.
My first-ever face to face encounter with the Infernal Robbery Syndicate was an audit in Connecticut with a lady examiner. She was a machine in human form, as many of them are, and at the end of the interview, I made small talk by admiring an etching framed on her office wall. It showed some men in 18th Century clothing gathered round a desk where a document was being signed. I should have recognized it, but did not; so I asked. “Oh,” she replied, “that's the signing of the Declaration of Independence.”
It took a while to sink in, but that eventually told me that this systematic extortioner, liar, thief, mobster and prostitute actually believed she was serving the ideals that Jefferson and his friends were penning, and for which they would soon afterwards risk their lives. She imagined she was “doing God's work.” It was an amazing realization. How could she possibly be so utterly, diametrically wrong? The only answer I can think of is that she had been conditioned, brainwashed by her employer. Not only by him, of course, but by the preparatory conditioning of government school, media saturation and all. Her evident beliefs, revealed by her work, were entirely unsupported by evidence and reason, so must properly be called religious. Yet they had a total grip on her life. Faith: powerful stuff.
Later and parenthetically, I wondered how she had acquired that etching. It was framed in a fashion that did not seem to me to belong to the 1980s, or in a modern office like hers. My guess is that she had taken it from a reluctant taxpayer when his property was being seized; if I'm right, he would have been a patriotic American, eager to promote the principle that all “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” And then his life would have been ruined when my inquisitor confiscated all he owned. And yet the thief herself supposed that she too was working to protect or advance those very rights, while in the very act, every day, of violating them all over the floor while diligently working as one of the latter-day “swarms of Officers to harass our People, and eat out their substance.”
Faith: powerful stuff. It's the very converse of reason.
Daily, devotees of Mohammed kill themselves and others in his name, fanatically giving all they have and are for that religious cause. Believers In Mohammed and Government have no monopoly on savagery, though; when Christians controlled the levers of power, they, too, were pretty gruesome. Heterodoxy in 16th Century Spain was detected by torture and punished by expulsion (notably of Jews and Muslims) or death, and was one of the Pope's answers to the Protestant rebellion. His reaction was not to reason but to compel, just like the IRS. In their turn, when Protestants acquired the power to do so, they too burned opponents at the stake and drowned alleged witches for failing to conform to orthodox standards of conduct. Faith: powerful stuff.
Noting therefore its grisly results, I thought briefly to compare the actual content of some common faiths. There's room for three religions: Christianity, Islam, and Government. Let's observe what the respective adherents say they believe, putting them side by side.
Christians all adhere to the Nicene Creed, first written in AD 325 for the Nicea convention, at which the religion was empowered and established by the Roman State. It was amplified a little in 381, and words differ a little among the various denominations, and some emphasize one of the doctrines above others, and some have added a dogma or two; but it's endured well and is accepted by them all. It's crisp and simple and elegantly summarizes Biblical theology. It compresses into remarkably few words a highly comprehensive worldview.
I'll not take it apart piece by piece, but just note from its opener (“We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Maker of all things visible and invisible”) that while failing altogether to define the term “God” or to advance evidence for his existence, it declares a belief that he's there, and that he made everything that exists. Since there is (so far) not a shred of proof that any such creation even took place, this is properly classed as a religious belief, a statement of faith--as very honestly claimed in its first two words.
Islam has an even shorter basis, called the “five pillars”; and most noticeably, only the first of the five is really a credo: “Faith or belief in the Oneness of God and the finality of the prophethood of Muhammad.” Again there's no definition of “God,” but also missing is any statement even about creation or anything else God may have done. Instead it hurries on to exclude all rivals by asserting that who- or whatever God is, his only or final spokesman is the warrior mystic it names.
The other four “pillars” are “Establishment of the daily prayers, Concern for and almsgiving to the needy, Self-purification through fasting; and The pilgrimage to Makkah for those who are able.” Those are on their faces not beliefs, as such, but precepts by which to live. In other words, the Five Pillars tell us something about how to live, but almost nothing about why – they convey no worldview at all. They therefore come off a very poor second to the Nicene Creed, which (nonsense though I think it all is) does at least outline a consistent account of how the Universe ticks. The “five” are really one Pillar and four Precepts, and that single Pillar looks (by comparison) pretty wobbly to me. Little wonder they needed to be advanced by military force rather than personal persuasion. It's truly amazing that they can get real human beings so worked up to a frenzy that they can riot and kill. There may be an analogy to the mayhem of soccer hooligans whose faith in one particular team leads them to violence against those with faith in another, but I can see no relation to calm reason. But then, we are discussing Faith. It's powerful stuff.
So far, the comparison is rather striking: Christianity says These are great sublime truths, understand and believe them and therefore behave ethically (though yes, there's plenty of detailed advice on how to do so), while Islam says Do these things because we say so--and hardly bothers to construct any underlying theology (though yes, in the Q'ran there is some account of the alleged character of Allah). I over-simplify, but that contrast is clear. No wonder Islam has always advanced by force, in close union with the State. No wonder its clerics act so viciously to prevent apostasy and rival preaching. The sunlight of reason in any degree would devastate the hold they have over peoples' minds. This suppression of reason, so much more than in the Christian “West,” explains why the last thousand years of enormous progress took place not in nominally Muslim societies, but in nominally Christian ones. Christianity does allow at least some independent thought.
Government is the most absurd religion of the three, and by far the most violent; and we can search in vain for any “creed” or “pillars” that admirers all believe. The beliefs are so silly, that need not surprise us; were they laid out in the clear manner of the Nicene Creed, any person with a brain and a pulse would say you have to be kidding!
The nearest “statement of faith” that comes to mind is the American example, in the Declaration whose signature was portrayed on my IRS inquisitor's wall; “Governments are instituted,” it says, “to secure these rights, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” Note the two fatal contradictions in those few words: (1) Government is by definition a primary violator of rights, always ruling self-rulers, so is absolutely unqualified to protect any of them, and (2) if the “governed” were really “consenting” to the rule, they would in fact not be ruled at all. No wonder the authors hurried on to other topics, like the scandalous conduct of King George. And no wonder government schools skate clean over the key questions of what government is actually for, or whence it really derives its powers.
The real credo is missing, but was brilliantly unearthed last Summer by Larken Rose, and the result can be seen and heard in his excellent sermon to that year's PorcFest. It's accurate and very funny, and I strongly recommend the present reader to spend a quarter hour in the electronic pew right now. I've heard a few sermons, but never one this good.
So – worse even than Islam – “Statheism,” the religion of Government, offers no worldview whatever, no apologia or theology, but merely says Do this, because we say so. And because if you don't, ultimately we'll kill you. Those with faith in government – most of our neighbors – are therefore the most gullible of all religious people, and exercise the least amount of reason.
That poses us with quite a task, those of us who yearn for a free society. It is to scrape away the layers of faith and awaken the reasoning power that lies latent. We know it's there, because reason is what distinguishes humans from other animals; so the job is to give it a jump-start. For example, in the Freedom Academy, the very first segment is headed “Human Nature,” and in it, the very first subject addressed is titled “Humans Reason.” Perhaps you have a way to convey those ideas more effectively, but they are the essential foundation for a free society. It must be built on reason, not superstition – and because all members of our species do have the power to reason, I'm confident that a free society is the only one that “fits” and that it will be realized.
But we do have some work to do. Faith will take a deal of dislodging. Everyone needs to think about society only in rational, economic terms and so a huge pile of garbage needs to be removed from each mind, and I have little patience with those who say there is no need for it, that it's not necessary for every member of a free society to be a philosopher. Nonsense! Every human being is already a philosopher, except babes in arms (and they work on the job pretty hard) – it's just a matter of helping them get it right.
The sooner we start, the sooner we shall finish.