you’re offended by my disrespectful treatment of religion, please
consider history and the abuse people like me have suffered at the
hands of those pious and proper followers of religious dogma.
– The Author
and religion presented mere opinion – opinion that might be
overturned by observation and experiment – as certainty. This
worried them not at all. That some of their deeply held beliefs
might turn out to be mistakes was a possibility hardly considered.
Doctrinal humility was to be practiced by others. Their own
teachings were inerrant and infallible.
In truth, they had better reason to be humble than they knew.”
– Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot
RELIGION OVERRULING SCIENCE
When, in 325, religion became a controlling factor in Western Society, the scientific disciplines developed by Socrates and Plato remained but were rarely used except to support religious assumptions. Literacy waned and war became a full-time endeavor for a majority of the population.
A Christian mob murdered Hypatia, a popular female mathematics and astronomy professor at the University of Alexandria in the Fifth Century. Thereafter, not a single woman scholar was allowed in the Christian world until the Nineteenth Century … justified and enforced by canon law. Women are still excluded from leadership over men in a number of Christian and Islamic sects and organizations today.
During the Dark Ages, people were not allowed to exercise their curiosity, or, if they did, were silenced whenever they considered something not in accordance with scripture. As an example, Galileo was first accused of heresy in 1613, when he wrote a letter to a student defending the Copernican theory that the Earth revolves around the Sun. Ten years later, his friend, the Pope, urged him to again study astronomy which led to a paper presenting arguments about a heliocentric universe. The inquisition threatened him with torture, made him recant his position and placed him under lifetime house arrest.
SCIENCE BOUNCING BACK
During the Reformation, science was allowed to blossom. Maybe it was England’s defection from the ranks of Catholicism that helped. People were allowed to observe reality and to make and test suppositions about it. Gradually, true stories about reality emerged and the fog of superstition and supposition was dispelled by unbiased, inquiring minds. Science was the same for everyone. It reliably predicted events no matter who was testing them.
Physics described all motion with precise mathematical accuracy, eliminating miracles and mystery from ordinary physical cause and effect. Chemistry described what used to be called alchemy and again presented a mundane explanation for our world and many of its mysteries. Atomic physics even came to explain the Sun and how it manages to continue to produce the energy so necessary for life. Science revealed a logical, predictable universe devoid of everyday physical miracles.
Geology, paleontology, and astronomy gradually uncovered a world and a universe vastly older and far different than that presumed by canon law and enforced by the Inquisition.
Medicine, genetics, and psychology have all made huge progress in understanding ourselves and how we came to be the way we are. Unfettered by religious declarations, mankind blossomed and our collective knowledge exploded exponentially. After a millenia and a half of virtual stagnation, the last five centuries have seen us go from venturing off the edge of a fanciful world in which we reside somewhere between Heaven and Hell to traveling to the Moon and soon to another planet.
To understand this divergence between religion and science, I first had to grasp the differences between the mind of science and the mind of religion. Clearly, they often lead in diverging directions.
THE RELIGIOUS MIND
I characterize religion primarily by its exclusion of others. Religions which don’t exclude might be better viewed as philosophies; freely-evolving systems of thought and action which allow diversity within their ranks. Because I am concerned with Western Civilization, I concentrate on its family of religions: Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Communism.
Religion is, by its nature, conservative in that it attempts to preserve and promote a set of ideas well-laid-out and rigidly fixed in their conclusions. Change causes religions to splinter; one sect welcoming a revised understanding and the other sect steadfastly resisting it1. Additionally, individual dissent provokes excommunication, ostracism, or other drastic responses. By and large, a religion lags its constituency; resisting change and being dragged forward only when intransigence is no longer viable.
The religious mind is loyal and accepts a number of stated and implied assumptions wholeheartedly. For example, I’ve never heard anyone in church or Sunday School question why we no longer have any prophetic abilities when our ancestors were assumed to be so adept at it. They no longer believe the story of Adam and Eve as literal or factual and yet they still think The Holy Bible is “the word of God.” I’ve never heard anyone question the ethics, morals and values behind the story of Abraham obediently willing to sacrifice his son, Issac, because God demanded it. It takes a religious mind to accept the basic Christian premise of Jesus’ death and resurrection being a fact and providing a vehicle for atonement and forgiveness. The scientific mind would require some logic, some evidence or some examples. The religious mind accepts the improbable facts and the unfair and unreasonable restrictions without question.
What makes Judaism, Christianity, Islam and Communism so difficult for much of the rest of the world to deal with is the arbitrary and capricious rules by which others are excluded. The history of all these religions include sanctified wars of conquest carried out in supposed obedience to the dictates of God or the supposed will of the people.
Jewish wars of conquest are chronicled in the Old Testament and reiterated in Israel’s creation. Christian conquests include early raids into the Holy Land by the Roman Empire, the Crusades (a series of senseless invasions by mobs of people without the means to sustain themselves), the ruthless conquest of the Western Hemisphere for the past 500 years, the unwavering support of Twentieth Century Zionism, and the Apocalypse. Soon after its creation, Islam was spread by warfare all across the Arab world, through much of Africa and into Spain and eastward all the way to the Philippines. The Soviet Union killed 20 million of its own citizens during the rule of Joseph Stalin alone, seven million by artificial famine.
This brutal warfare was portrayed as righteous, justified, and in the best interests of the people being invaded. This tells me there is a spiritual disconnect hidden within it; a blocking of the loving concern Jesus implored us to exercise; a blindness to the humanity and goodness in others who, because they had different customs and beliefs were labeled with a derogatory word or phrase such as “evil” or “infidel” or “savage” and thereby dismissed from kindness or empathy; murdered, robbed or enslaved without guilt or remorse.
When, at age 8, I came forward in Church, I was told I should believe Jesus was the Messiah and the only begotten son of God because it was in my best interests. I was told His death was necessary so that my sins, past and future, could be forgiven. I considered this. Could I just arbitrarily decide to believe this? Mom would be so happy! At the time, I decided there was no way to know, that it was a stupid rule and that our Creator wouldn’t have been so bigoted, short-sighted, and arbitrary. There was something truly horrible about the rules for Heaven, Hell and the Apocalypse. Excluding Moslems and Hindus and Buddhists from God’s grace seemed very wrong and I wasn’t going to join in the shunning. I’d have to join the shunned. That was my first glimpse of the nastiness behind the kind smiles. It wasn’t my last.
THE SCIENTIFIC MIND
The scientific mind isn’t necessarily a mind trained in science in school. It is a mind that questions and tests, that accepts something only when presented with convincing proof through demonstration or rational argument with facts and logic.
I believe in the laws of Physics not just because I learned them in school but because I tested them and I saw them take us to the moon and to all eight planets.
I believe in science because it fits together for the most part and, where it doesn’t fit together (such as the Big Bang Theory), I don’t believe it.
THE SPIRITUAL MIND
The way to distinguish spirituality from religion is equality, compassion and inclusion. It is simple to say; apparently not so easy to do. Spirituality is what’s good for everyone. It doesn’t exclude. It doesn’t dictate. It doesn’t use force.
A SOCIETY BASED UPON RELIGION
A society based upon religion changes very slowly. A good example is the acceptance of women as equal to men. Because the Bible said so two or three thousand years ago, mothers, wives and daughters were not given the right to vote until the Twentieth Century – just about everywhere in the world.
This makes no sense at all to the scientific mind, but it makes perfect sense to a mind kept in tune with ancient social manipulators millennia in the past.
The Iraqi invasion of 2003 made perfect sense to the religious mind. We were fighting “evil.” We were defending our families against Weapons of Mass Destruction. To the scientific mind, this is ludicrous and false. The WMDs that threaten our families are right here in this country. The threat to our freedoms is not someone else somewhere else, but our own knee-jerk responses to calls for us to use our religious minds.
When we began pledging our allegiance and then added “under God” to that pledge, we made a commitment to use our religious mind in political affairs, a practice which hasn’t proven to be trustworthy. The religious mind is loyal rather than logical, though it pretends to logic quite well. Thus, the religious mind makes us easy to deceive and manipulate. We become a “flock,” led not by common sense or valid information but by loyalty and by fear; by love and by hate; by perception and appearance rather than by substance and reality.
We degenerate back into the Dark Ages where all society is dedicated on the surface to survival and defense against near and distant “enemies,” and, underneath, to making their master, their local lord and their king wealthier and more powerful.
A SOCIETY BASED UPON SCIENCE
A society based upon science isn’t really much different from a society based upon religion. In either case, it adopts rigid constructs which the society is generally constrained to follow. As the “logic” of religion has taken us over and over again to war after war, so the “logic” of presumed science will lead us off into self-serving fantasy of the Big Bang Theory, time travel, human chauvinism, and pseudo-scientific drivel such at the “trickle-down economics” of Ronald Reagan.
A SOCIETY BASED UPON SPIRITUALITY and COMMON SENSE
There is a third option to use in ordering our society: spirituality. Spirituality is what’s good for everyone as a whole. Spirituality is balanced and inclusive. Above all, spirituality is compassionate. In a time of abundance, however, compassion must be tempered by insight. We must find ways to help people help themselves, to empower people to improve their own lives and then to help others in turn. We must avoid permanent dependence. We can’t merely be kind. We must also be commensurately wise.
When others disagree with us, when others choose or allow totalitarianism, when others wish to be left alone, we must honor their customs, their decisions, and their fate, whether or not we consider it fair. We don’t force ourselves on others. We let others work out their differences for the most part.
The exception I might allow is wholesale genocide and I think we must be careful not to overreact to apparent threats to others and not to exacerbate already incendiary conditions.
Whenever we see a society ordered by spirituality, it flourishes. The Republic of South Africa reminds us each and every day how tolerance for one’s oppressors can lead to freedom whereas the rest of the African continent generally demonstrates alternative resolutions.
Spirituality worked marvelously well everywhere it was tried in the Twentieth Century – unless, of course, your only criterion is excessive short-term profit and even then, it wasn’t such a bad thing. I think Jimmy Carter had a great idea and a good start on world peace. The electorate and our society, however, was stuck with a loyalty to ages of conquest. Being the world’s bully felt so much better than just being one equal nation among many. It was in that election that the United States, led by nationalistic and religious rhetoric, rejected peace and reiterated their commitment to aggression and dominance.
The loss brought about by the capture and detention of 500 Americans in the Teheran embassy, though apparently of lasting import, was almost entirely illusion. They all came back safe, sound and sane. Bullying the rest of the world may be getting us lower gas prices, but the cost is excessive: socially, economically and spiritually. I think even the wealthy among us would be better off in the long run with a more benign, respectful, and conciliatory foreign policy, a foreign policy more like Carter’s and without the bullying, belligerence and boasting of most US regimes. Certainly the average US citizen would be better off if we stopped our own expensive, illegal and immoral activities rather than blaming others for the problem and making up imaginary crimes in foreign countries our leaders choose to occupy.
If the term “terrorist” did not exclude armies authorized by their countries, we might even consider our own troops “terrorists.” Certainly, their automatic weapons, smart bombs, and incursions into civilian neighborhoods create terror. It is most certain that they have not moved us toward a more peaceful, stable or free world either here or in any recent “theater of operation” thousands of miles from our borders. These “enemies” are technologically incapable of creating a credible threat to us equal to our threat to them. If we had left them alone, I am most certain they would have done the same for us.
As I’ve stated before, Robert Anthony Pape, Jr., a sociologist from the University of Chicago, assembled a team that conducted an exhaustive study of suicide terrorism2. Ninety-five percent of the time, it was motivated by an occupying military considered foreign by locals. It is an attempt to communicate to a foreign electorate blinded by loyalty and incendiary rhetoric. Ironically, our troops, by their presence overseas, are creating the very terror and terrorists they were supposed to eliminate.
Once we know this, we can no longer wrap ourselves in the American flag and spout the lie, “fighting for freedom.” At some point, the truth must catch up with us. We must face it and try to make amends for our unbridled greed and our religious and nationalistic intolerance.
Spirituality extends far beyond hoping for personal forgiveness and redemption. It includes making amends; doing what we can to repair the mistakes of the past. It looks at those mistakes, learns from them, and finds ways to repair the damage and encourage different behavior with better outcomes. We will find that if we keep striving for progress toward a better world for all of us; a world with tolerance, forgiveness, and kindness; we will be happier and safer.
Greed, particularly excessive greed, where wealthy people take things from people who need them, seems like not such a great idea in a world ordered by spiritual principles. Today, we have a small wealthy class which hires people to manage their wealth and is invested in diversified holdings. To get those managers to show constraint in their stewardship of money which belongs to others isn’t a simple task. The only ethical thing right now is to maximize return-on-investment for ones clients. This needs to change and it won’t be easy.
A state of semi-permanent warfare apparently is the best way to maximize profits and so the clear directive is more of the same. In the long run, however, we all know this won’t work. The violence always returns sooner or later and one’s holdings end up in rubble along with the rest of the country. We investors and stockholders must use more spiritual criteria in directing the use of our monies. To do this, the rules must change. Owners must be held responsible for how their monies are used. The corporate structure shouldn’t shield them or their managers from liability. We need to scale back the size and diversity of stock holdings and eliminate the loopholes which allow unlimited profiteering without any personal liability.
Only when each of us is responsible for how our money is used will we start to have a system with checks and balances and where we cannot blindly take without looking at the results of our choices. Corporate capitalism and mutual funds open huge loopholes where owners aren’t responsible for the companies they own. This hasn’t worked, isn’t working and isn’t going to work.
All kinds of “fairness” arguments have been put forward to support the status quo, but it is obvious that corporate capitalism and blind ownership create unbridled, systemic greed. The solution is to close the loopholes and hold the wealthy accountable for the effects their choices have on others, whether they are aware of those choices or not. We have virtual monopolies because people own massive stock in an industry rather than a company and so marketplace economics no longer apply. If a monopoly is a bad thing – and it is – then a virtual monopoly is equally bad. If an individual’s political influence should be limited, then so should that of a corporation or a consortium of corporations. If an entrepreneur is personally liable for his company, then a corporate investor should be equally liable.
©David N. Dodson, September, 2015, Phoenix, AZ
1 Examples of splintering: Shiite/Sunni; Protestant/Catholic; Sadducees/Pharisees/Essenes/Zealots/Orthodox/
Reform/Conservative/Zionist/anti-Zionist; and Marxist/Maoists. These subdivisions also fought among themselves.
2 Pape’s Dying to Win: The Strategic Logic of Suicide Terrorism (2005) contradicts many widely held beliefs about suicide terrorism. Based on an analysis of every known case of suicide terrorism from 1980 to 2003 (315 attacks as part of 18 campaigns), he concludes that there is “little connection between suicide terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism, or any of the world’s religions …. Rather, what nearly all suicide terrorist attacks have in common is a specific secular and strategic goal: to compel modern democracies to withdraw military forces from territory that the terrorists consider to be their homeland.” (pg 4) “The taproot of suicide terrorism is nationalism,” he argues, “it is an extreme strategy for national liberation.” (pg 79-80) Pape’s work examines groups such as Al-Quida and the Sri Lankan Tamil Tigers. Pape also finds that the majority of suicide terrorists do not come from impoverished or uneducated backgrounds, but rather have middle class origins and significant levels of education.