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Love at first sight: Voltaire's postulate, and what's love got to do with the rest of it.

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Although it was decades ago, I recall the moment - a genuine epiphany - as one filled with spiritual glee: When I read Voltaire's postulation that "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

While all the while I'd been harboring similar sentiments, mine had been wrapped in the sin of prolix. Voltaire summed them sweet and short.

 

Why the State of Kentucky feels it necessary to have its own Office of Homeland Security stretches my imagination. My first guess is that few "terrorists" know much more about Kentucky than that it is somewhere where chickens get fried . . . poorly. In other words, I seriously doubt the Blue Grass State is in genuine peril of dastardly foreign scheming. And based on a component of the state's 2002 anti-terrorism law, the one requiring a plaque be posted noting that the safety and security of the state "cannot be achieved apart from reliance upon almighty God(click here), my most sincere suggestion to all Kentuckians is that their abiding ignorance is by far the greater risk they face.

 

When I once brought the issue of the illogic of religion before my brother-in-law in Michigan, he posited that "faith is belief in things not seen. You can't see radio waves, but you know they exist. You can't see love, but you know that too exists. Faith is like that."

 

And supposedly "that" settled it. Except, I'm neither Gnostic, nor Pythagorean, nor am I much an admirer of Protagoras or Plato. Religious faith is subject to highly individualized definition; definition that is by no necessity subject to peer review the way scientific data and presumptions and other evidentiary claims are. As a matter of fact, both fact and evidence, and those aspiring to them, typically are brutalized on the alters of fact- and evidence-free religious convictions. As Frost the poet might have alleged, "That has made all the difference."

 

Given just a few indisputable facts, facts such as humankind no longer grants much likelihood that God, or any god, can really be propitiated with a just-yanked-from-the-chest-still-beating-human-heart, or there's much to fear about getting too close to the edge of the earth, or that disease (ill humors) can be remedied by bleeding the body of copious quantities of blood, it is a mind-numbing mystery how so much of the earth's population remains sold on what are at best religious superstitions that predate each of the now-seen-as-utterly-foolish-and-preposterous examples cited.

 

Nonetheless, religion - regardless whichever variety or which of their frequently blood-feuding sects - demands absolutely mindless adherence to mindless tenets that not only defy rationality, that are even self-contradictory at first glance, let alone following scrutinizing inquiry. Indeed, it is the demonstrated ardor of one's faith in the verisimilitude of otherwise nonsensical (on-its-face) dogma upon which one's social esteem depends.

 

Arguments on behalf of propositions that religion has had a civilizing influence over Hobbe's state of nature where life is "solitary, nasty, brutish, and short" fail entirely the truth that every civil step forward has been a tooth-and-nail battle against the grasp of religion and religious leaders' unyielding grip on power over common folk. Rather than religion, pan-globally it has been the scientific demeanor - with no guarantee of ultimate success, the employment of speculation followed by testing and culling the observable, testable evidence for truth and answers to what had been beguiling, unanswerable, thwarting human conditions - that has solved and resolved every puzzle, whether it be on the board of justice, medicine, technology, astronomic exploration, or whatever. It has been the scientific method, both figuratively and literally, that gained steam during the European Enlightenment, that clawing from the dark pit of the Dark Ages, not religion, nor any aspect of anything religious, that has elevated humankind to whatever plateau it has thus far achieved. Religion has been ever the obstacle to progress, never a stepping stone.                  

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Sadly, tragically, overwhelmingly most Americans and those in the connected world have been front and center witness to a United States' cynical disparagement of the scientific method and the progressive mien that promotes it; all to regressive doctrinaire religious, political and corporate orientations that hold their own self aggrandizing interests supercede whatever might be the products of seriously drawn inquiry and evidence. We've seen that concerning the environment, concerning biological and medical research, concerning the use of the military, concerning basic education, concerning basic justice and the rule of law, concerning fundamental issues of safe and healthy water supplies and sewage disposal, and concerning an exhaustive list of other social policies.

Indeed, Olivia Judson, in her December 2 New York Times article, Back to Reality proposes that one of President-Elect Obama's most daunting challenges, once he assumes the presidency, will be to restore the honest application of honest science in the governing task. Ms. Judson draws from Seth Shulman's book, Undermining Science: Suppression and Distortion in the Bush Administration; a compendium of cases that exquisitely describes the administration's intimidation of government scientists, the wholesale suppression of evidence the administration found vexing to its policies, and the promulgation of intentional distortions en route to making and exercising its political will.

On the private front, the Roman Catholic Church, still soaking from a saturating deluge of the most execrable of pedophile scandals, financially backed the most horrifically divisive assault on civil rights (California's Proposition 8!) ever to find a path to the electoral process while priest after priest have since called on those of its parishioners who voted for Illinois Senator Barack Obama to confess the sin of their ballot selection. Not being sufficiently sanctimonious and vile, those same priests also threatened to withhold from the parishioners who did cast such a vote the sacrament of communion. The Mormon Church also used its members' tithing to advance the same political measure, all the while retaining its holier than thou claim of tax-exempt status. Furthermore, the big-box evangelical movement has invaded every branch of the US military, to the point that advancement through the ranks and through the officer corps depends not first on the merits of an individual's expertise and record and potential. Rather, the individual candidate for promotion must first pass the most invidious religious muster: does he or she attend prayer breakfasts and church services and evening prayer meetings?

 

It is every American's right to believe whatever he or she chooses. If one wants to believe bad luck follows walking beneath a ladder, that's his or her right. Stupid? Absolutely. But, c'est autre chose with some. Same thing with stepping on a sidewalk crack, or crossing the path of a black cat. If one wants to believe in some invisible, all-powerful prime mover-unmoved that nonetheless is responsible only for the good things that occur, never for any of the misfortune that hourly befalls humanity, that loves all on earth to the point all on earth are susceptible to a forever sentence in the most diabolically inhumane environs should that loving being's whim so decide . . . That is the absolute right of the individual. There's simply no accounting for the seductive allure of forced simple-minded explanations; even when they make no sense at all. It's every American's right to be uninformed, to be ignorant, to be as gullible and stupid as he or she wishes. And I defend those rights as ardently as I defend the others that are enumerated in the Constitution.

 

Thing is: by either hook or crook or the legal political process, to those who lust after the depraved illogic that is all religion, not a one of you has also a concomitant right to jam the idiocy down the throats of us who can see the sham, and who resent every effort to do so. 

(PS - Although I don't know whether there is a direct correlation, but, from top to bottom, the top 15 states for drunk driving fatalities are 100% the most god-fearing, of conservative Christian folk. [Source])

 

An "Old Army Vet" and liberal, qua liberal, with a passion for open inquiry in a neverending quest for truth unpoisoned by religious superstitions. Per Voltaire: "He who can lead you to believe an absurdity can lead you to commit an atrocity."

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So thoroughly perceptive and insightfully accurate... by martinweiss on Sunday, Dec 7, 2008 at 11:22:39 AM

 

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