In my last post, "What Science can Answer" I made some statements regarding what science can or cannot answer and the proposition that it may well be that it is not that science cannot answer certain questions but rather that we may not be emotionally capable of accepting the answers that science may give. I wrote:
It is highly likely that the answer to why we are here will simple be: we are the result of a whole mess of accidents, coincidences and extremely good luck. We happen to be alive and we have no purpose greater than or less than any other living thing on the planet. None whatsoever. We simply are born and die. Our matter is returned to the Earth where it is recycled to sustain future life of various forms. Our "consciouness" which Artificial intelligence will soon show, is the result of very high level brain function. WHen the brain ceases to function that unique energy that we call "consciousness" will simply do like all other energy does, obey the laws of thermodynamics and dissipate as it seeks more stable forms.
This answer prompted some e-mail regarding whether I believe in God and that the statement above appears to be contradictory to my previously professed adherence to Ifa. On another blog I have been labeled a "blathering secularist" for having issues with Barak Obama's blatant use of religion to curry favor with a portion of the electorate. I am on record, multiple times, as being very much against the confluence of religion and state. My argument rests on two things: First it is illegal for non-profit organizations, which churches and other organizations of worship are classified, to endorse a candidate for any political office. There are those that disagree with this law but for the time being it is what it is. Secondly, it is shown that people in the throws of a religious experience are not thinking rationally about much of anything much less the long term ramifications of their electoral decisions. In fact most of them will freely admit that they are doing what they have been taught is the "will of God" rather than from some long drawn out decision process. So much easier isn't it? In a so-called, informed democracy this should bother people. It should bother people a lot. This post is on why this is a problem.
Many people who adhere to belief systems fail to ask serious questions about their belief system. In many cases this is because to do so can result in death. Indeed many people fail to distinguish between belief and fact. Bob Marley has an excellent line in which he says:
"Brothers you should know and not believe."
I've been called a "word nazi" and in this case I'll have to be one again. Briefly a belief is something one accepts as real or true whereas knowledge is based upon the certainty of something.
In the latter case, in relation to religion, one is told a certain thing or perhaps reads it in a pre-approved text and one accepts that statement or statements as truth without question based on the supposed authority of the book or speaker. In the latter one is certain something is the case because it has been shown to be the case irrespective of the authority of the book or speaker. For example one does not simply accept that 2+2 is 4. One can test it out for oneself and verify that such a statement is true. Indeed if one has any doubt you can get someone else to do the experiment. Indeed the certainty is in the fact that anyone can observe the same thing regardless of personal preference. In order to be certain, all doubt is removed because all doubt is removed by means of experimentation. Thus, one can move from belief to certainty only by addressing the doubts that are inherent in belief. For many people, belief is expressed as certainty which is a problem because that attitude of certainty is not based on empiric evidence but rather on "faith in things not seen". In other words, some people choose to operate on accepted truths based on the trust in something they accept exists. A circle of baseless accepted "truths". Then we trust these individuals to make decisions for the rest of us.
Another question not dealt with by most is the origins of religious belief systems. Religious systems arose out of the early human societies that have in common the deification of certain natural phenomenon such as the moon, sun, water, air and dead people. Some have tried to explain this as being God's divine intervention in all these peoples lives. A more rational explanation is simply that the people were responding to the environment around them. Anyone who is observant will note that people will often create "good luck charms" when attempting a dangerous or arduous task. We have lucky shoes, socks, necklaces, etc. Showing that people will create totems and the like to relieve themselves of a level of uncertainty. Thus the mental exercise is:
Because I was wearing this shoe when I overcame this obstacle I will wear this shoe from now on AND no one else can touch the shoe.
In a sense the shoe is deified. There is no doubt that early humans everywhere made such observations and that early religions were based on these experiences.
Another example would be the oft deified sun. It is of little surprise that universally the creator (aka God) is something that humans cannot see. Indeed if one looks into the sun one will go blind. There are very few times of the day when the sun can be looked at directly without damaging ones eyes.
What about the dead? If you talk to people who have had limbs removed they will tell you that on occasion the missing limb will itch. clearly there is no limb sending any signals to the brain but the brain having been used to having input from that area of the body will basically make up signals from the missing limb. It is very similar when we deal with death. I find it highly amusing when I see TV shows where people have near death experiences and they see Jesus who looks just like the Jesus they had seen all their lives. Never mind that if Jesus was indeed a real person that had been on earth that he would have a specific look that everyone would report as the same and would not have blond hair or blue eyes.
It is clear that these were not "out of body" experiences, but the brain in REM sleep like mode. For those who survive a persons death, we know that their brain is full of memories of that person. Indeed for those of us who pay attention to our dreams we know that we are able to even make up whole interactions with people we know down to their clothes, location, etc. that would seem as real as anything we experience when we are awake. Often these dreams are said to be "dead people" coming to speak to us when in fact we were speaking to ourselves. Hence, it is clearly reasonable to say that early humans, not yet versed in the art of brain function thought that the dead were in fact still with us and therefore created elaborate means of appeasing them and/or making sure they are helped to the "other place." Ahh but why even have "another place"?
The answer to that question lies in the biological imperative to live. We are all programed to preserve ourselves. The body will go through great means to preserve itself including shutting off blood to "unnecessary" parts of the body (arms, legs). In essence, it is our imperative to live that fuels our need to know what will happen to us when we die. Clearly the wish to live after death is but another expression of this biological imperative to live. In the harsh world our ancestors found themselves in, it was no doubt a very rough existence compared to what we deal with today. Food is scarce, some poisonous. Large and small animals can kill us if we are not careful. Indeed the whole concept of heaven as a place where animals that are a danger here on earth are somehow non-carnivourous in heaven is more of the "I wish it were easier here" type of daydream than anything promised by "God". Other clear examples of heaven being a brain balm than anything else is the idea, across cultures that heaven or the "other world" resembles the one we know quite closely. There are homes, vegetation we know about, animals we know about. People are dressed, or not dressed as we are familiar. Indeed heaven as expressed in most religions is a replica of what we know on earth sans conflict of any kind. Thus we find the most probable reason for religion: To attempt to explain that which we don't understand and how to deal with conflict. The easiest explanation for our ancestors to explain things they did not understand was to say it was "God". The Sun can't be looked at? Oh it's God who is so powerful that you can't look at him. What is that other disk in the sky? Oh it looks like the sun but it's not so it's another god. Lightning in the sky? Thunder, God, god. Clearly these explanations were the best that humans could do at the time but today we know better. If our ancestors had the information we have now, would there be an Amen-Ra?
Well, maybe. Indeed there is another powerful reason for organized belief: Power. Indeed another thing common to most religions is the "priesthood" and in many cases a monarchy "descended" from God. Being the descendant of or "official spokesperson" for God makes for a nice living. In many of these societies these individuals are never questioned and are well looked after. In South America, the people were so brainwashed that they allowed priests to kill upwards of 40,000 people as sacrifices to "God" in order to make sure, among other things, good crops. Of course in many of these religions the priesthood and royalty were often exempted from the sacrifices "required" by God. This power motive is very great. it is a running joke on how the reverends often have nice houses and cars even though their congregation may be dirt poor. Often the very dirt poor from which these "riches" are gotten from will defend such riches are due to the fact that God does not want the messenger to "look bad". Never mind that Jesus was dirt broke, wearing rags and effectively homeless.
Another interesting item is the idea that God made humans "in his image". If we shrug off the apparent arrogance of such a position for a minute we can consider this: Why does an omnipotent being need with feet? Arms? Legs? Hands? I mean think about it for a minute, we know why we need these things but God? Oh I see, God doesn't need these things he just decided that was the best form to form himself. Himself? hmmmm.
Edit 8-1-2006: I want to expand on this "his image" part because the way I presented this argument was too finely focused on those who take such a statement literally such as those who believe the Bible word for word. In another testament to the Khemetic origins of Judaism we should note that in Judaism the reference to "made in his image" is not meant to be literal. It is meant to say that humans have some qualities of God, such as ability to rationalize and such. This is important because in the Khemetic you have the concept of humans being the image of God. Pharaoh Tut-Ankh-Amen is literally the living image of God, or the living image of the hidden one. In essence the Pharaoh was a living embodiment of the attributes of God. While we may scoff at such a notion, it is important that we recognize the existence of this ideology. That Christians, specifically those of a fundamentalist stripe, who are woefully ignorant of both the Judaic and Khemetic origins of the concept and instead use a literal "interpretation" of such an idea simply underscores the problem of religious belief vs. reality. [end edit]
I don't want to get into a history of religion but I want to make sure the reader understands that much of the religions out there are derivatives from these ideas. Many of them are merely updated to reflect the times in which they developed. Judaism spawned it's pharasees which Jesus made examples of. Christianity gave us Popes, Crusades, Reverends and Prosperity Evangelism. Islam gave us Arab nationalism and Jihad. In a stroke of irony Buddhism gives us persons who disavow violence, material wealth and basically act as Christians should. In essence it is arguable that with the rise of organized religions we have massive conflicts as persons whose religions tell them that killing is wrong, produce weapons that can kill everything on earth and kill those who are not like or believe as they do. It is clear then that large sections of "people of faith" have serious issues high on the list of those issues is an intolerance of other beliefs. So, for example, In Iraq, people will kill each other simply because of the type of Islam the other is practicing. In the United States there is a rising group of Christians who want to establish an elected theocracy. On this agenda is that the government should be an agent of proselytization where, for example, Christian prayer is said in school and all other functions regardless to the fact that some people may not in fact be Christians. Their agenda is clear because while outlawing organized prayer in school the court has never made any rules that forbid anyone from praying at their desk, in the hall, in the bathroom, lunchroom. In fact I recall many times in my youth praying before a test with not a person batting an eye. So it is clear that the issue isn't prayer itself. But lets look at the mechanism of prayer for a second.
People swear up and down that "prayer" works. I agree. 100% ; though not for the reasons that other people give. The one thing that has been proven by science and has been known from our ancestors is the mind-body connection. The fact that one can "concentrate" to the point that one can control parts of your body that otherwise would be "autonomous". What many people describe as "God's" blessing is often the result of that person putting themselves in the frame of mind to succeed at a particular task. In other words, the prayer was in fact a form of meditation. Many people who have had chaotic lives who come into a religion often report that they feel "at peace". This is no coincidence because the prayer portion of the religious experience allows many converts to calm their minds for the first time. They often fail to realize that they could have done so without the religious experience.
But what about those "random" experiences where "money" just showed up or some other event. Aside from sheer coincidence, people are generally good. Situations can trigger bad behavior and attitudes but often due to the makeup of our bodies we emit certain types of radiation which is often referred to as "Vibes". This has been shown by science. It is now known that one can induce a particular mood in a person by targeting certain frequencies at particular parts of the brain. People are huge emitters of energy as well as receivers of energy. Often when these "gifts" show up it is because we have emitted energy that effects people. call it quantum "macking" if you like. All to often, in their need to see God everywhere people discount the very nature of people to be kind and to pick up on their needs.
Why should you need to love Jesus in order to love your neighbor and treat them with the same respect you would want afforded to you?
What part of not killing is hard to understand without such an instruction coming from God? Most of these questions have answers that can exclude any godhead. Of course once the godhead is removed one is back to the questions that started the god seeking to begin with: Why am I here and what is my purpose? If there is no godhead, heaven (or hell) then there is no purpose but to live and die. The question then becomes: can I live a decent life, respectful of others (human, non-human alike) without the god imperative or the promise of some latter reward?
In essence this the current struggle. People are asking this very question and those unwilling to honestly deal with these questions are being forced to deal with these issues and many do not like it. Like in the days when Europeans thought the world was flat and was the center of the universe, those who challenge the orthodoxy of god belief as perpetuated by the dominant religions are facing a backlash by those who have not challenged the orthodoxy and whose feelings of well being are dependent upon the protection of such belief systems.
Some in more liberal circles say that the violence and intolerance we see are not "true expressions" of the religions. I do not buy into those arguments. The failure to call a concept of a "chosen people" as proclaimed by Judaism as racist and clearly the work of a man is a failure on the part of the religious ideology. Christians and Muslims have grabbed onto this ideology to the death of Millions of Africans in slave trades of many directions. The failure to condemn these "chosen people" and "chosen religions" ideologies for what they are: Man made ideologies of exclusion for no other purpose than the devaluing the lives of the other in order to rationalize their killing or subjugation (as seen in Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Aztec, etc.). The seed of absolute certainty as discussed at the beginning of this post is the seed of much of this. Once an ideology of "There is no God but.." or "Those who believe shall not perish but have everlasting life" and "Go ye therefore..." is an invitation to killing in the name of. oppressing in the name of. Subjugating in the name of. Some time ago a poet cited a book that blamed the ideology of survival of the fittest as the origins of the devaluing of life. It claimed that scientific ideas that "demoted" man to a descendant of apes caused people to devalue life and spread things like racism. It is clear to anyone who studies history that the devaluing of life began long before Charles Darwin and had nothing to do with science. Indeed it has been when science has been co-opted by religious thought that it has been serviced to devalue life. When science was used to prove the lower intelligence of the African. It was trying to "prove" the preconceived notion of the Hamitic curse.
So it should be clear why I am opposed to the use of religion and "God" in politics. It's re-emergence as a litmus test of qualification for political office is a new low for this age of information. indeed, if such religion based politics were in existance the bombing of Lebanon would simply not be occurring. It is very clear that the bond to Israel is born out of the "Judeo-Christian" racist myth of the promised land. The site of Jewish children writing messages on Christian bombs which would be dropped on a mainly Muslim population, underscores the sheer bankruptcy of organized religion to hold people to it's supposed bedrock principles. It should scare many people then, that the people in power and some who want it adhere to such "certainty beliefs" which cannot even address simple "common" decency things such as bombing civilian populations or flying planes into buildings.
Having discussed God, religion and politics we come to me. I have a belief system. I do practice Ifa though probably not the way that many other do. I understand that veneration of ancestors is important in understanding my family, who I am and those who contributed to me being here. I like that Ifa is very specific in that God is not he or she or anything that can be depicted. I like that this traditional African religion does not assume to know everything or have all answers in some text or book somewhere. But rather it has a set of principles that can be expanded upon. I like the fact that evil is the result not of some great nefarious spirit roaming like a lion but the result of how people act. Evil is located in intent rather than action like how people kill people not guns. Foremost, though many people fail at it, the goal of Ifa is that the individual reaches good character. That's it. That is a huge undertaking. Ifa is much like the greatest commandment given by Jesus: love thy neighbor as you love yourself. You'll note that the instruction given was not to love your neighbor as you love God but as you love yourself. Why? Simply put, the rule of biological self-preservation. Humans may decide not to "love" a godhead anymore but will always have the biological love for themselves (not to be confused with self-esteem) to not do themselves harm. Even the 9-11 hijackers questioned the value of killing people who had done nothing to them. For a brief moment they understood the imperative of good character and that killing people even in vengeance or allegiance to God was wrong. It was their religious programming that kicked in to override that basic knowledge. it is this overriding of basic knowledge this basic be nice because you want to be treated nicely, that is the threat posed by religion or faith based policy setting. it is why I oppose the collusion of religion and politics and why I speak out against those who would mix the two. It is also why I had to write in opposition to the scientist that said that science cannot answer certain questions. He put the limit on science because of his emotional need for after death explanations. It is this self-imposed limitation of knowledge that I do not ascribe to. When I die I will be able to test the life-after death hyppothesis. That's good enough for me.