Posts Tagged ‘common sense’

The True Origins of a Specious Argument

January 29, 2008

The faithful often try to tell us that without god the world would collapse into chaos.  They claim that god provided us with laws or commandments to live by and that societies base their laws on them.  This strikes me as a rather arrogant assumption that overlooks some very basic history.

In fact, the relationship probably works the other way around.  Religion took its laws from those that already existed.  Let’s look at the ten commandments, for example.  It is claimed that they brought rules to a world without any.  The implication is that people ran around killing, stealing, and raping with impunity before them.  But codes of law had been written long before the alleged burning into stone.  Hammurabi’s Code was written 400-500 year’s earlier, and there were others before that.

Another thing about Hammurabi’s code that may seem familiar from the first testament is the eye for an eye justice it espoused.  Fire and brimstone Christians will recognize much of what they believe and stand for in it.  So, rather than codes of law being based on the ten commandments, it seems to be the other way around.

This is not the only time that the old was recycled into something new by a religion.  Many older ideas, stories and myths from various cultures have been integrated into them.

So, where did these laws come from?  What inspired them, if not some kind of divine intervention?  Where did the moral authority come from?  The answer is rather mundane, actually.  These laws were come up with as a practical solution for managing the problems of the growing city states in the ancient world.

As settlements grew into towns, and towns grew into cities, it became necessary to govern the behaviour of the growing populations.  A system was needed.  Property had to be recognized.  Order had to be established.  Rules were needed to make clear what was allowed and what wasn’t.

The fact that civilization emerged at all probably indicates that those who would kill their neighbours and take their property were always in the minority.  If they weren’t, they would have killed off the more passive minority and then fought each other.  So, it seems the majority of people have always been inclined towards co-operation and peaceful co-existence, at least at the local level.

Practical problem solving using rationality and common sense.  Isn’t that how most things get done?

Self-Serving Faith

January 26, 2008

I was having a coffee at a sidewalk cafe on Granville Street one day, when I noticed a couple of girls a couple of tables over.  I noticed one in particular, actually.  A pretty, dark haired girl in one of those knitted jacket things.  The attraction didn’t last long, though.

She may have noticed me noticing her.  Maybe not.  Anyway, she then said to her friend, loud enough for me to hear, “You know what I pray for?  I pray that the creator gets my dad to buy me a condo.”  Sigh…  Suddenly, I didn’t feel like giving her a demonstration of just how charming I can be.

Disappointment aside, this merely demonstrated – again – that faith is often accompanied by ulterior motives.  Praying for material gain and comfort.  Nothing new there.  Mundane.  Common.

Her lack of sincerity also made me think that many of the people who had suddenly declared themselves believers after George Bush was elected weren’t genuine.  They were just going with the flow.  Taking the path of least resistance.  Following the crowd, like sheep.  You can see how they could blend in with the full-time believers so easily.  Come join our flock…

Some people are followers and others identify with and emulate authority figures.  They crave power and authority so they take on its look and stance.  When Jimmy Carter was president of the U.S., my father wore cardigans.  During Lee Iaccoca’s high profile reign at Chrysler, he wore similar glasses.  If the current emperor talks of faith and god, many people will agree, to be like him.

I question the numbers of the truly faithful.  I think a lot of people hold onto half-hearted belief because thinking for themselves and taking personal responsibility is too much effort.  Either they already have enough on their plates with work and survival or they’re just too lazy.  They’ll make do with a boxed solution, even if it’s imperfect.  It’s convenience over quality.  A replacement system will probably have to be neatly packaged and easily consumable for them to go along with it.

Then there is another kind of person who holds onto what they don’t truly believe – the bet hedger.  I used to see a long-legged girl who confessed, “It doesn’t make sense to me, either, but I believe just in case I’m wrong.”  I guess the fires of hell are a powerful enough image to intimidate even sound logic and common sense.  Faith, it seems, is an investment.

Then again, maybe I’m just being stupid.  Maybe I should have shown the pretty girl at the cafe just how charming I can be, and let her father buy us a condo.  Sigh…  I’m too good for my own good.

Disillusionment

January 19, 2008

People talk of disillusionment as if it’s a bad thing, but it should be good.  Disillusion, and it’s suffix-enhanced derivatives, is one of my favourite words.  It is misleading in its use, but revealing in its construction.

The Gage Canadian Dictionary defines disillusion as “free from illusion”, “freeing or being freed from illusion”.  Examining its constituent parts, this seems obvious – dis = not, remove;  illusion = false vision;  and ment = condition or state of.  So disillusion means not under – or free from – false vision, and disillusionment is the condition or state of not – or no longer – being under false vision.  In other words, disillusionment is clarity.  That’s a good thing, no?

Clarity is good, but we think of disillusionment as bad because when people see the truth after being lied to all their lives, they feel resentment or, perhaps, depression.  But, it’s not the newly found clarity that is the problem, it is the lies they’ve been taught by the people they should have been able to trust the most.  When the people you counted on to raise and teach you turn out to have been wrong, and to have given you a false vision of the world, it is natural that there will be negative sentiment.

When this happens people lose confidence in the old system.  But there isn’t a system in place to replace the old one so they may become cynical and adopt the attitude that it doesn’t matter, that there are no rules or limits on behaviour.  This, at least in part, is what happened in the 1960s and 1970s when, for the first time, large numbers of people questioned the institutions of their childhood and found them lacking.  But, they didn’t really have anything to replace them with.  There are those who would point to this and say, “See?  This is what happens without god.”  There are alternatives, though.

We need to teach children a new system of ethics based on rationality, common sense, and truth – not fear of a god or eternal damnation.  It has to be done from an early age, in school.  They should be taught how to figure out the right thing to do, rather than to follow like sheep.  In other words, they have to develop critical thinking skills so they can distinguish right from wrong.  Then, maybe, everyone can be on the same page in the future.

Of course, it will have to be done carefully.  I’m thinking of a conversation I had years ago with a French friend, in which I told her I had the impression that French kids throw away their Sartre when they read they are free and go out to wreak havoc, before getting to the part about responsibility.  She didn’t disagree.

This post appears in the Carnival of the Godless #87.