Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Same Old Snake Oil

A polygamist fugitive named Warren Jeffs was arrested recently. I notice this news more than others because I was raised as a "Mormon" and even used to be a missionary when I was 19 -21. I am now no longer subservient to any church.

I listen to X96 radio from "Hell" err...Salt Lake (streaming on the web). They mentioned the news, which I had heard on NPR anyway. The morning DJ's there, Kerry Jackson, Bill Allred and Gina Barberi, are dry, cynical and so much more enjoyable and real to listen to than "honking clown" DJs. They shouted something like "good, no more pliggin". Which is hilarious.

Anyone who asks me about it knows I think polygamy is evil. When the world's male and female population is near parity, polygamy simply means "many lonely men". Nature wants us each to have a mate. I think keeping more than one mate is fundamentally anti-social behavior that, perhaps indirectly, causes a lot of unhappiness and loneliness for others. I suppose not everyone is going to find someone, and life is not fair, but that's where laws and government have a role. It is good that we use our laws to enforce exploitative behaviors. Sure, not even the force of law would help me communicate better with women I like or be more attractive to them, but I like my chances in a country with no polygamy.

Warren Jeffs activities include but extend beyond polygamy.

It is almost uncanny how similar the life and behavior of a cult leader like Warren Jeffs is to that of LDS church founder Joseph Smith. Just a quick rundown. 1) Run your own city and take advantage of people's need for real estate 2) Marry teenagers to old men using social pressure 3) Hold your peers down by claiming exclusive prophetic status 4) Break laws so much of your church business must be held in secret...and so on.

Some Mormon's are stuck in cognitive dissonance about their own history, and would rather attack or review any other fact than those that touch upon threatening their beliefs. Some would rather believe things like "The Rosetta stone is a hoax" than accept that their 19th century founder had mistranslated an Egyptian scroll, for example. Facts, to many faithful, are really malleable or ignorable.

I see my friends or family placing faith in something where the investment of faith is uninformed and it is troubling and sad to me. I want them to have faith in themselves faith in their future but not faith in deceptive information held over them to maintain their loyalty...i.e. their lucrative tithing donations. It's only too bad that church systems are supported by so many people who reinforce eachother's cognitive dissonance and investment of faith in lies or under-reported history.

I agree with my blogging friend, Pete, of http://www.fiddley.com/ who says "I think a faith in Joseph Smith is misplaced by todays mormons...almost nothing about him represents modern mormonism he would not be welcome in today's church".

I don't think it means the LDS church should not exist. It should change, abandon the ridiculous and the irrational and become a community organization that can truly help people cope with their lives, truly care for eachother. Although, maybe they have to use the system they use to have enough power over people to exist, and keep people paying, and chasing that carrot of being "blessed".

Blessed is a fine word for "things are going well" like tires that are "inflated" are blessed with air (haha). But I am not sure a God arranges it or pushes it or causes it. Not that there isn't a God or couldn't be. I think if there is, God created the Universe and maybe IS the laws of physics. So sure you can thank God for every breath...but not just YOUR breaths exclusively.

Yet, as my friend Pete says, " Joseph Smith still didn't know shit about ancient Egyptian".

Religious searching is valid...but Mormons and many people of other faiths, do not search. They stop searching and buy all the stock answers given...so they no longer learn or their learning is stilted and uninformed. When you leave that faith, many great understandings are opened to you. Life can make more sense because you can see it for what it is. But other answers are no longer there...they are still just as open-ended as they are for all mankind until we all learn together what is true of life and the cosmos.

Pete: "It is like getting near the end of a crossword puzzle when you realize half your answers are wrong and you know that based on the latest answers you know are right so then the old ones become obviously false."

It's not easy to have to review your own irrational beliefs, but I would think being free of dogma is much more satisfying. You realize you can determine your own destiny and even make your own metaphor for the unexplained. You can update your understanding regularly to the best of human knowledge.

Mormons would say: "yah but what if God could tell you what is what." I agree that would be fantastic. Trouble is...there is no method of determining whether one man's fantasy is from God or not. That holy spirit is fickle, and tells muslims one thing and catholics another...and really....it is probably an innate human response from social bonding.

So, as the arrest of a Latter-day "Joseph Smith" takes place, if we can all agree that kind of behavior is not acceptable, maybe the church founded over 100 years ago by just such a character is not worth preserving and propogating. Bamboozled people can be humble enough to admit they were wrong and mourn the loss and become full, rational thinking human beings participating in the human experience rather then struggling to deny facts to preserve a fondly held faith that is having a hard time standing up to the cool winds of reason. The only alternative is one we all learned on the playground. Simply cover both ears, and repeat after me "la-la-la-la-la-la".

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Religion is not Science

I read about a Bible based museum today on Yahoo.

The founder, Ken Ham, says:
"If the Bible is the word of God, and its history really is true, that's our presupposition or axiom, and we are starting there,..."

I find this idea of teaching religious ideas as science appallingly flawed.

I cannot say there is no one out there...no smarter being somewhere across the galaxies who may be a God to us but is perhaps no god at all. I cannot say that there is no divine being outside the physics we know in some ulterior Universe. Maybe our entire Universe exists in some kind of multi-dimensional "Fish Tank" at the back of God's garage. I cannot rule it out.

With the same exact limitations, I believe no one can exact sharable facts about the will or nature of God outside the pursuits of science. My religion is everything I know, nothing more nothing less.

I can develop a spiritual life. I am able personally and feel spirituality, pray to and believe in whatever seems to give me the feelings I desire to have. I think we have adapted these mechanisms as human beings to help us reduce stress, focus on what we can manage and control at any given moment and not use our big pattern-finding, problem-solving brains to worry constantly.

We often see what we want to see. We gather evidence that supports our desired presumptions. Thus, something like the breaking of the Bosporus (around 5500 BC) in present day Turkey. This event allowed water from the Aegean Sea to flow into the once lower lying Black Sea. The breach may have flooded so many lands to such a great degree that many thought the world was flooded and wrote that in their traditions. Since this is a water world, there is evidence of flooding and ancient water flow almost everywhere. If a person imposes a token of belief upon the evidence it would be easy to gather hints of support in the natural world for what is believed. Such as in the case of a belief in a global flood. This is, however, the opposite of the scientific method. We must let evidence speak for itself and accept that our postulations must be negatable or may be entirely disproved by reality.

I imagine a news report from today being carried on as a story for many generations. It would eventually gain in fanciful proportion, the original context lost. Something like "It was as if the world were crashing down on us and it was the end!" could become "And behold, worlds did crash upon them in those end times.", after years of translation. These words and the value people place in them may be exploited to coax behaviors out of people, making religion a dangerous tool for manipulation. It always seems that religious people even recognize this kind of exploitation in "other people's" belief systems, their own somehow naturally immune.

When people attempt to connect their spiritual feelings in those personal experiences to "Knowledge" of the Universe or learning... It runs a great risk of producing conclusions that are nonsense, laden with bias, agenda and personal interpretation. Believing this way can be dangerous to society. Beliefs are a fine aspect of the human experience and can even inspire the labors of scientists, but beliefs are not science. The attempt to stretch this extrapolation is fraught with pitfalls of ignorance. It is a sadly self-imposed ignorance.

Many believers who inappropriately elevate the importance of their thinking over observed facts, sometimed fail to even study or consider the Universe, physics..the orbit or rotation of the moon...the science of evolution, the chemistry of life. They do not look and do not see. Fearing, perhaps that reason and knowledge might break the spell of comfort delusion provides.

Religious faith and scientific knowledge can share the same mind, but one must understand the personal emotional nature of the spiritual and not try to impose those feelings upon the search for facts, knowledge and understanding or especially, other people. Religion may have its place in spritual community, but is not something ever to be imposed upon scientific learning. It is simply out of its element in that regard.

Science is the pursuit of knowledge of what is. To a faithful person, it may be fine to believe science is the study of God's creation. The scientific method then let's God teach us about the world, by discovering the laws of nature and phsyics. Limiting the influence of our own presumptions about God and "what can be" according to the finite range of our own understanding.

The Bible is widely interpreted in conflicting ways. It was translated many times and modified by non-believers with intent to persuade or deceive. The Roman Emperor Constantine, a life long Pagan until his deathbed conversion to Christianity, spent much of his life guiding the process that would select which books even made it into the book. His motive was one of governing strength and political consensus, not a search for pure truth.

The Bible's components were written by the hands of imperfect people with limited understaning and knowledge. They used inherently limited human language and writing. The words were often handed down as traditions and only written down again many years later. Even if there is a God. Even if this God spoke to people, the Bible in hand now, is a highly human-influenced document. Endowing it with infallible authority is just irrational. Attempting to endow it with a sense of scientific authority is just not reasonable. It may have worth as human poetry, as a spiritual resource, but not as book of scientific knowedge of a study of nature, physics or biology or the like. Indeed, any seemingly scientific value gleaned from it is tainted by its very existence as an attempt to authorize the beloved book as a source of knowledge whose value is not scientific, but in the humanities.

Personal beliefs are simply beside the point of science. They have their place only in religious community, not in public teaching, debate or education. There we must let the facts of reality teach our open minds. We must allow ourselves to change what we believe about the sum of human knowledge as we learn more about the actual Universe we can observe, quantify for eachother and study. If we want to enjoy the escape faith provides, that is all good and well, but it is a something of a fantasy realm not to be misused as or confused with true knowledge.